Many elected officials take their public responsibilities very seriously. They work hard, study the issues and strive to provide services for constituents while respecting that they're spending taxpayer funds.
Unfortunately, far too many, in their quest for power and popularity, ignore financial realities as they dole out money indiscriminately. Some know exactly what they're doing; some are clueless.
The City Council candidates in Union City fall into the latter category. Incumbent Jim Navarro, after two terms on the council, and challenger Jose Estrella are two deer lost in the headlights.
It might be amusing if there wasn't so much at stake.
Union City is one of many municipalities buried in debt for employee retirement programs. The city is supposed to fund the benefits as workers earn them. If sufficient money is invested, it should cover the future payouts. But these programs have been badly underfunded.
In Union City's case, the situation is horrible. The retirement programs are short $96 million. That's nearly five years of city payroll, excluding overtime. It works out to about $1,364 for each Union City resident.
It's a debt for benefits employees have already earned. It should have been funded, just like salaries, at the time the workers provided the labor. Instead, the city treats it like a credit card balance, which it plans to stretch out for decades, making future generations pay for the financial
Did Navarro, after eight years on the City Council, understand this? Actually, he told us that the city is in the black.
It's like saying that a household budget is balanced because a family is making the minimum payments on its astronomical credit card bills. In Union City's case, it makes most of the minimum payments, but not even all of them.
But what about the credit card balance, the $96 million? Navarro had no idea it existed. Most elected officials at least understand that their cities face unfunded liabilities for their retirement programs. It's what drives the entire discussion about pension reform.
He knew none of the basics about the lucrative pension benefits his city provides most employees. He didn't know the benefit formulas. He didn't know that his police pay 1 percent of their salary toward their pensions while taxpayers contribute about 40 percent.
As for Estrella, he couldn't offer a cogent reason why he was running. He said he was "for property rights." He said he "sees a lot of cities that are on the verge of going bankrupt." But when it comes to Union City, "I see that it's a very well-run city."
He was guessing. He had no idea.
We asked why, given their lack of knowledge, we should consider endorsing either of them. They had no answer. Nor do we.
We can't recommend either candidate -- and we won't.