Here’s what I have been enjoying about the Hospital Board and the City Council lately, granted I don’t watch the Hospital Board as much as the City Council, but I have enjoyed the two chairs of these bodies really taking control and pushing back on blanket statements made by other Councilmembers or Boardmembers who have gone pretty much unchallenged for a while.
So last Tuesday the subject of the police contract came up and of course it was pulled from the consent calendar — and I’ll note that the City Manager’s office actually sent a Press Release out the day before the meeting to point out that the Police contract was on the agenda.
Staff talks about the contract and what it all means and how much it will save yadda yadda yadda, and then Doug deHaan talks about how this new contract does nothing to save any money right now. Then after some more discussion and some folks pointing out that because the police (and the firefighters because they have the same contract) have not had any wage increases in the last few years and would not have any for the duration of the contract AND because they are contributing not only their share of their pension costs but also now they are contribution a portion of the City’s share they are, in essence, getting a pay decrease since their take-home salary will be less due to the increased contributions. After Doug deHaan announces that there are no savings now, he then launches into this speech, I’ll transcribe it here, but I have the discussion here up until the vote:
I personally strongly support the police officers in every way or form. The dialogue that I hear here tonight is not…that things are going to get better… We put together a blue ribbon commission that looked at fiscal sustainability, they are telling you, not just the wages are going to get you in trouble at a later point in time — and I hope that we all understand Economics 1A — it’s the future of what commitments are made. So, it’s easy to say: wait till next year, we’ll work it out…
We haven’t addressed that one elephant in the room: the future obligations.
So then Mayor Marie Gilmore steps in and says:
You know, I’m sorry, I have to take exception to that. You’re telling us that we have not addressed a future obligation when we have just…
Doug deHaan interrupts and says:
Oh, okay, OPEB is an excellent example.
For those that may not be up to speed on the lingo OPEB is “Other Post-Employment Benefits.” So Marie Gilmore continues:
It is an excellent example, that’s exactly what we did.
And then channeling their inner third graders, Doug deHaan retorts back:
No we didn’t.
And Marie Gilmore counters:
Yes, we did. We cut that liability in almost half. And you’re upset because you’re saying that it doesn’t give us any current savings and at the same time you’re saying we’re not doing anything about future savings. You can’t have it both ways. We have done significant structural changes to take care of these future liabilities.
Doug deHaan then responds:
I do not believe that is the situation.
Beverly Johnson then steps in to say:
There seems to be a lack of of understanding, maybe the human resources director could explain to the Council again how the OPEB issue is being addressed by this contract.
So the Human Resources director has to, yet again explain how it all works. Essentially she confirms what the other Council people understand, the changes negotiated in these contracts structurally modify these post retirement benefits.
After being schooled by the Human Resources director and his dias-mates — in a nice way — Doug deHaan then accuses the other City Council members of wishing and hoping that things will get better. And when Marie Gilmore pushes back and says that no one has said that on the Council he looks at her askance and announced that they have all said it in the past. Beverly Johnson pipes up and declares that she never said that and Doug deHaan assures her that he knows that she never said that, implying that the other three had. So Marie Gilmore says:
We have acknowledged the fact that the economy isn’t going to get any better for the next four or five years. We all realize that. We realize that we are heavily dependent on property tax revenues to fund the municipal corporation here and property tax revenue are not going to be any better. I don’t think anybody up here is kidding themselves as to what the economic forecast the next couple of years out is going to be, which is why we talked about sitting down in September as opposed to January and starting work on next years budget. Why we’ve given direction to the City Manager to start talking to all our bargaining units to help us weather the storm because we understand that this is an on-going issue and we are no means finished by the fact that we have completed our safety contracts.
Despite not seeming to understand the contracts and their impacts on the City and “personally strongly support”[ing] the police officers, Doug deHaan votes against the contracts anyway, but not before rambling on about things that don’t really matter.
Let me just point out one thing though. I think we can all agree that the new public safety contracts have terms in them that did not exist before. I think we can all agree that the new public safety contracts have taken away some benefits from the public safety folks as well. There is a cost savings to those takeaways and concessions. Doug deHaan went waaayyy off message when he decided to declare that the contracts neither helped in the future or in present. As Marie Gilmore said, he can’t have it both ways, but he certainly did try Tuesday night.