Tough-talking city leader seeks to tackle Folsom employee salaries

In 2010, 141 Folsom workers earned more than $100k
By: Don Chaddock, Telegraph Managing Editor
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The name Ernie Sheldon is familiar to many of those who use the parks in Folsom, whether they are 8 or 88. From youth sports to the senior center, Sheldon has been at the center of the city?s Parks & Recreation department for decades. For the last four years, rather than sitting in the audience of Folsom City Council meetings, he has represented the residents as a city councilman, actively taking part in the machinations of a growing city. Sheldon?s outspoken demeanor and vocal criticism of some of the behind-the-scenes goings on, have earned him a special place in the hearts of his supporters. Speaking to the Rotary Club of Historic Folsom during their recent breakfast meeting, Sheldon wanted to make one point very clear ? ?one person can make a difference.? ?I?m not a politician so I?m not politically correct,? Sheldon warned the early morning gathering. ?If you believe in the town and think it?s right for the town and the people, you do it. Sometimes, you have to make a little noise to get things done.? While working on budget issues, particularly those related to charging more to participate in youth sports, Sheldon helped organize a march from one of the parks to City Hall with hundreds of kids wearing red shirts and carrying banners and signs. That is just one of the recent issues in which Sheldon made a little ?noise? to get his point across. Sheldon also once wore the Rotary pin as a member of the Rotary Club of Folsom. ?Back in the late ?80s, I was a Rotarian,? Sheldon said. ?(The late) Jack Kipp cost me a lot of money in fines.? Sheldon arrived in Folsom in 1985 after he retired from the U.S. Air Force. ?I bought property here in 1979 and came back,? he said. ?I came in the Air Force at 17, so I didn?t know anything about politics. In the military, we keep politics out of it. But, when I moved to town, I started going to the city council meetings, sitting in the same chair in the back.? That?s when he caught the attention of some of the elected officials. Soon, he found himself appointed to the parks commission. ?There were three parks when I came to town,? he said. ?Today we have 47 parks.? He found politics interesting and wanted to try his hand at being more directly involved. ?I tried about five times to run on the city council,? he said. ?When my friend Eric King called and said he wasn?t going to run (for re-election), I did.? He ran and won. With the economic downtown and layoffs at the city, Sheldon said it?s been a difficult time for everyone, but reforms were necessary. ?Every person in the city pays their PERS (Public Employee Retirement System),? Sheldon said. Pension reform was a tough nut to crack, but he said they did so with the help of the bargaining units, more commonly known as unions. ?We?re the leaders in this area as far as cities are concerned, to have our employees pay their way,? Sheldon said. ?We haven?t reformed compensation and we need to look at that. We can?t afford to pay what we pay.? He said out of 441 employees, 141 in 2010 ?drew more than $100,000 in take-home pay.? Sheldon said it?s a matter of basic fiscal responsibility. ?We?re out of touch with reality over the private sector,? he said. According to Suzanne Palmer, of Folsom, the pay is excessive. ?The city of Sacramento has 444,000 residents (while) Folsom has about 80,000,? she said. ?I think that the city of Folsom is way out of line with the pay scales vs. the city of Sacramento. Folsom has 18 percent of Sacramento?s population.? Sheldon said he?s confident the city will come out better after tough choices are made. ?This council is united,? he said. ?We don?t agree on everything, but we get it done.?