Bob Marr and the Future of State Employment

Michael Bernick
Counsel with the international law firm of Duane Morris LLP, a Milken Institute Fellow and former Director of the California Employment Development Department

I miss Bob Marr, and I think about him during the current discussions of state public sector employees.

Bob worked at the state Employment Development Department (EDD) from 1964 until a few months before his death in May 2005. Bob was a state employee for over 40 years.

I met Bob in 1982 when I was heading a community job training agency, the San Francisco Renaissance Center. Bob worked with then-Director Kaye Kiddoo on job training initiatives. Bob and I corresponded on job training issues over the next 16 years, until I became EDD Director in early 1999.

Bob was the opposite of a nine-to-five man. You could find him in the Department at all hours. For many years he worked on a manual typewriter, and only in the late 1990s converted to a computer. Bob knew every job training and job creation program since 1964, and the lessons they could yield for practitioners and policy makers.

There were other long time EDD employees in Job Services, thirty-year plus employees, who brought institutional knowledge and presence as regional managers: Al Dave (“Mr. EDD”) in Los Angeles, Geneva Robinson in San Diego, Diego Haro in Central Valley. All had advanced through the ranks at EDD and knew every training agency and every elected and appointed official in their region.

In Sacramento, Bob provided the program history so valuable in avoiding the mistakes of past government programs. Thinking about the role of government sector job creation? Bob could talk in detail about public sector employment under CETA. Have a question about youth employment models? Bob knew the Neighborhood Youth Corps of the 1960s and every youth initiative thereafter. He knew about job training initiatives that others had only read of: the Manpower Development Training Act of the early 1960s, the Humphrey Hawkins full employment bill that was to end unemployment, the Concentrated Employment Program. Moreover, he was always generous with his time; any job training official who called from Redding or Calexico or Glendale, he would share his knowledge with.

In late 2003, the Davis Administration was recalled and by early 2004 the new Administration didn’t see much value in Bob. For a while he continued in the Department, but without real responsibilities. No longer was he considered an asset to be respected. Instead, he was a slightly eccentric old man, who represented the past, and kept a large training library that the Department no longer had space for. For some years, Bob had worked for the state for free—with his many years of service, his paycheck would have collected nearly as much in retirement. In early 2005, he quietly retired.

In May 2005 I received a call from Michael Krisman that Bob had passed away. It was clear in Bob’s statements during the preceding months that he recognized was no longer valued in state government.

Today, state employees, especially long term employees, are under attack. State employees make too much money, they need to “take a haircut”, they hang on too long, their pension system is out of control.

Of course, the state pension system, like most local pension systems in California, is out of control. We should have addressed pension reform in the Davis Administration, and certainly it should have been among Governor Schwarzenegger’s first tasks. The current system fails on both fairness and efficiency grounds, and a restructured system for new state hires is needed as soon as possible.

However, equally out of control is the existing furlough policy and criticism of state employees. If Bob was around today, he’d be volunteering time to keep up with increased EDD workloads, just as many EDD employees have been doing. Nonetheless, the current furloughs aren’t saving anywhere near enough money to counteract the detrimental impacts on state services, local economies and morale. Particularly in regard to long time state employees, the furloughs are counterproductive.

Over the past 30 years, I’ve met a lot of Bob Marrs in state government, professionals dedicated to their department and profession. If properly listened to, they provide the experience and skepticism that are two of the most needed traits in government officials.

In the budget negotiations ahead, the state should do everything to retain their services, not drive them away. They are a tremendous resource.

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