PIEDMONT -- The City Council at its Monday meeting approved spending $50,000 to hire an experienced labor negotiator for upcoming talks with its miscellaneous and public safety employees.

Negotiating perhaps difficult, concessionary contracts will begin soon, with some bargaining group's contracts expiring as early as Dec. 31.

Janae Novotny, a partner with Burke, Williams and Sorensen, the same firm at which City Attorney Tom Curry works, will be paid $227 per hour for her services.

"Most attorneys charge north of $300 per hour," Mayor John Chiang said.

Finance Director Mark Bichsel said, "She's one of the best attorneys I know. She has experience with the city. There is no start up time with Janae. We can make good use of her time by stacking negotiations in one day."

Labor negotiations in recent times were handled by City Administrator Geoff Grote and Finance/Human Resources Director Bichsel to save money. Bichsel is retiring in March, and his successor would not be up to speed in time to handle the task of labor negotiations, Grote said.

Grote and the council have been under fire by some for being too generous with employees' benefits, namely pensions and health and welfare. No city employee has received a salary raise for four years, however. The recent Measure Y debate had opponents calling for accountability for overspending by the council.

"Bringing in an outside firm to complete this task is in the best interests of the city," Grote said.


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Curry will continue to perform general duties of a city attorney, while Novotny focuses on the negotiations.

An expert on labor law, Novotny's duties include examining contract language, policies, work rules and practices. She will work to develop strategies for eliminating or modifying expensive or inefficient policies, and determine potential cost savings. She will provide reports to senior management and the City Council regarding status of negotiations.

Councilwoman Margaret Fujioka stressed that if the $50,000 is topping out, the council wants to know right away so it can decide how to proceed from there.

In other business, the council approved generating less copies of staff reports to save money. The council now receives "paperless" materials on iPads. The city will print 10 copies of meeting materials for the public, down from 15, unless there is a topic of high interest. City Clerk John Tulloch said generally, five to 10 copies of meeting materials are left over after meetings and thrown away.

"Let's not kill trees for no good reason," Grote said. "We want to save the public money and not make wasteful copies. Anyone who has a standing request will still get their copies. But many are reading materials electronically now."

The council will take a holiday break and reconvene on Jan. 7.

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