Chuck Reed plans to continue statewide pension reform

Former Mayor Chuck Reed is leaving California, but he vows to continue to fight for statewide pension reform.

Reed, 71, says he’ll continue working on reeling in the exploding costs of public pensions, the signature issue that won him national notoriety as San Jose’s 64th mayor. He’ll also take on cases for the Silicon Valley law firm where he is currently employed.

Reed’s move to Colorado marks the end of a consequential era in San Jose history filled with advocacy and reform for the two-term mayor and former councilman.

While Reed’s political career took off in San Jose, it appears he was destined to be a leader — even while growing up in Kansas.

“My mom tells me that I was on the student council in first grade,” Reed told the San Jose Spotlight in a recent interview. “I have a picture but I don’t remember it.”

Reed says his political interests were sparked by activity at his children’s schools, where he joined various fundraising committees and site councils.

Reed made the jump to San Jose City Council in 2000, after serving on 20 boards and commissions. Reed was elected San Jose’s mayor in 2006 and led the city for the next eight years.

“I just think it’s important to be engaged and involved,” Reed said. “I have a hard time standing by watching things that are broken without fixing them.

Under his watch, San Jose took on its astronomical pension costs by putting a measure on the ballot to reduce benefits for existing and new workers. Nearly 70 percent of voters approved Measure B in 2012, but it led to years of fallout and controversy, including numerous lawsuits and an exodus of police officers.

The landmark measure thrust Reed into the national spotlight and made him a champion for the cause. Now, he’s focused on statewide pension issues.

“That’s a huge debt burden (affecting) lots and lots of states,” he said. “That’s the problem I spend my time trying to figure out.”

His work on pension reform began around 2002, Reed says, when San Diego faced bankruptcy due to rising pension costs engulfing the city budget. This was in spite of the Southern California city’s reputation for smart fiscal responsibility.

“We started looking at some things that could be done to fix the system while I was a councilman and when I became mayor it got to be more and more important,” Reed said.

Another hallmark of Reed’s administration is rooted in his transparency efforts.

Reed and his team worked on a series of sunshine reforms to make San Jose government more accessible to the public, including a policy to release public meeting agendas 10 days before meetings.

“We had about 80 altogether that I think permanently changed the way San Jose does business and how it deals with its people,” Reed said.

As councilmember, Reed said he pushed to publish agendas earlier, but was met with resistance. The political will was there when he became mayor, Reed added.

“One of the secrets of our ability to do pension reform and fiscal reforms and save the city from insolvency were transparency things we did early in my first term,” Reed said. “If you’re about to do something stupid they will tell you. So if you have to put it out there 10 days ahead of time, eventually someone will notice (and think) “Well, that’s a really stupid idea, you probably should do that.’”

Reed’s colleagues describe him as honest and likable.

Pete Furman, who served as Reed’s chief of staff for eight years, says that some might be surprised to know that his former boss has a fantastic sense of humor.

“He pulls out these lines that are so funny,” Furman said. “He remembers everything and synthesizes stuff really well.”

Victor Ajlouny, who has known Reed since the 1980s, worked with him in many capacities. Their kids attended the same school and Ajlouny ran Reed’s campaigns for both city council and mayor.

In the Berryessa School District, Ajlouny recalled that Reed took initiative to set up the Berryessa Education Foundation and did the legal work pro bono.

“Chuck has always been a strong advocate for equal rights,” Ajlouny said. “He has always chosen the fights for the little guy.”

Reed and his wife are moving to Colorado to be closer to their grandchildren. They are planning on taking off in the spring after trekking through seven national parks.

Contact Carina Woudenberg at carinaw86@gmail.com or follow @carinaew on Twitter.

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