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Letters to the editor - 9/29/02

September 30, 2002

One city official's reply to Jim Bestpitch



In response to Jim Bestpitch, regional Union Representative of AFSCME 3373 and 1540, I would openly agree, "the most important element to a democratic society is the free flow of information to its citizens."

Having no desire to continue with the past "norm" of being accused of "repressing" information, this elected body called for "open negotiations" to be conducted during public meetings, which was turned down by all of the employee groups.

In deference to this decision, the mayor and council met with each of the employee groups and explained that at any point a group felt the "negotiations" were not transpiring in a fair manner, they could return to the mayor and council to present concerns.

To publicly appeal to the citizens for a response to such potential deficiencies in the "negotiating process," of which the citizens are not publicly being made aware of, is inappropriate and in direct conflict with the initial request of the employee groups to keep such matters away from public view.

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Based on budgetary data, I believe it is a misrepresentation to state that the city refers to these employees as "second-class citizens." The city taxpayers devote more than 80 percent of the fiscal budget to employee wages and benefits, which includes a competitive pay scale, adequate time off, 100 percent employee health care, and an unmatched sick leave buy-back program.

At the same time, the city continues to increase the number of personnel in public safety, fund educational advancement of employees and balance expenditures for necessary public improvements such as transportation, recreation, and infrastructure.

Balancing all of these requests by delaying capital projects, and extending city services without expanding the corporate limits, has brought to the surface the stagnation of a tax base that is faced with a projected increase of 31 cents over the next four years.

The failure of leadership to address these factors, rather than be bent by them, has placed the citizens of this city into the position of "second-class," and the selective information in your public submittal does nothing to provide a positive approach during a time when the city must either gain control over these issues, implement the projected increase in taxes, or resort to scaling back employee services through attrition or consolidation.

I consider myself a servant of this city to both its citizens and the "stewards" employed to operate it. In all of my interactions with both I approach every situation with appreciation of the individual and subject.

I understand that a new contract has not been completed with the city police, but also understand that the previous contract remains in effect until a new one is agreed upon. I was not part of the prior administration that decided to provide no wage increase to employees at a time when health care costs were increasing, and have "respected" the unfairness of this issue by publicly stating that any employee taking home less in pay during that period should be compensated for that negative amount.

I have conveyed to the employee groups that I am not an expert in Union negotiations, but believe that I have been professional in my approach, and will continue to be in seeing through to completion these contracts in the best interest of the citizens we are both meant to serve.

The city did utilize the services of a labor attorney to review the existing contracts, as it appeared that neither union representation nor the city administration could provide agreeable interpretation on some of the language being discussed.

This task was completed, which may prove to have expedited the "negotiating" relationship, rather than go "against" it. Given that more than 80 percent of the city budget revolves around employee wages and benefits, the cost to achieve any efficiency through this process would benefit the citizens of this city in the long run, and provide clearer "negotiating" areas for the employee groups in the future.

Employees representing the various groups on the City Health Care Committee reviewed alternatives to the health care benefits that would provide savings to the City. The outcome provided an approach that some of the employee groups voluntarily chose to accept, which provided savings to the city at an incurred cost to the employee.

A direct portion of this savings from the non-union group was returned to that group as has been proposed to occur with the union employee groups of Fire and Light who voluntarily accepted this change in health care cost as well.

If such decisions have placed "morale at an all-time low," no employee has directly informed me of this. If this is not correct please consider this an invitation to hear all such concerns

As a member of the City Council I attempt to protect and enhance the financial stability of this community while providing fair and comparable wages and benefits to the employees of this City.

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