Reality, perception, and how the city does business.

Is there a price to be paid for honesty?  Can we speak openly about employee contracts?  This is about transparency.

One of my goals throughout my term in office has been to communicate with transparency and honesty.  I feel that many elected officials and tend to communicate in soundbites and manipulated numbers.  At the November 1st city council meeting we approved our first 2 labor contracts for 2011.  The city has 19 bargaining groups.

This is not written to attack organized labor nor government spending but rather to point out how dishonestly we have traditionally communicated. I have always found it hilarious that when organized labor and political leaders arrive at an agreement which benefits the workers, citizens get mad at the unions. It is their job it is to fight for the workers.  Yet the political leaders whose job it is to manage the bottom line get a free pass.  When there are spending issues it is the elected officials who are at fault not organized labor.  Still labor somehow takes the ire of the public.

I am supportive of that vast majority of our employees who justify their compensation and work hard with an unending dedication to the public good.  There are a few folks that I have been less than impressed with, but in general I feel that the city has one of the best employee sets of any organization (public or private) that I have ever seen.

On Monday the city brought forward 2 contracts that called for 1% increases in employee pay.  That is how it was presented.  Just one problem, that figure was terribly misleading.  That figured ignored other changes including the effect of eliminated previous furlough days, corrections to contracts, and other compensation changes.

In earlier meetings I specifically stated that I wanted to see bottom line expense to taxpayers figures.  These were NOT provided in the materials we received.  As such before and during the meeting I asked the  questions to get the real figures from staff.

Here are the different components of the increase.

  • 1% pay increase – As advertised, given the awful economy and state funding failures I would have liked to see this flat this year.  In the end, I feel that the cost of the fight would be greater that the potential gain.
  • 0.5% benefits – this includes items like retirement an healthcare costs which we have little control over.
  • 2% Clerical Workers – There were some inconsistencies in this contract which the city had previously agreed to address.  Fair is fair, but the timing was not good.
  • 3% due to lack of furlough days – In 2010 there were some number of furlough days which reduced the 2010 total compensation.  These days are gone in 2011 and as such result in an increase to total compensation of 3% according to staff

Here are the contracts approved to date and approximate real increase to total compensation in parenthesis.

  • Rochester Public Utilities clerical workers (6.5%)
  • Rochester Inspectors Association (4.5%)

I do not accept that the city should advertise 1% pay increases when the net to taxpayers is so much more.  For better or worse we need to be honest when we communicate.  I will continue to push this issue even if it is unpopular with some elected officials and staff.

Assuming the state holds up its end of the bargain we can grow the city at a rate slower than the rate of population growth + inflation.  However even if we do this we will be raising property taxes and fees if the state continues to fail to live up to its end of the bargain.  Few people realize that city government shrunk in 2010.  Even so taxes went up.  This is because LGA was cut to Rochester.  LGA is the only way that cities can get tax revenue from those that work in and rely on city services, but don’t pay property taxes here.  Fortunately, soon to be finalized Governor Dayton has promised to hold LGA harmless from future cuts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.