Public Watchdog.org

Bargaining Secrecy Agreement Is Incompetent, Foolish And Devious

05.06.11

At this past Monday night’s City Council meeting, Mayor Dave Schmidt revealed a Hardy Boys-style mystery that points to yet another element of City government dysfunction: we’ll call it “The Case of the Unauthorized Secrecy Agreement.”  

The City is currently involved in collective bargaining with the firefighters union, and it seems that somebody in City government agreed to something called the “Agreement for Ground Rules Between City of Park Ridge And International Association of Firefighters, Local 2697” (the “Ground Rules”).  These Ground Rules purport to maintain “the confidentiality of the bargaining process [between the City and the firefighters’ union]…until such time as a total agreement has been reached or a formal declaration of impasse has been made.”

As readers of this blog well know, we hate secrecy in the workings of local government – which makes these kinds of “rules” unacceptable on general principles no matter how they came about.  But what’s even worse than the cloak of secrecy these Ground Rules try to draw around the negotiations is the cloak of secrecy City Staff has drawn around the identity of the Staff member(s) who actually agreed to them, and who decided not to consult with the mayor or the Council before agreeing to them. 

Instead, Staff seems to be perpetrating a conspiracy of silence about them, which was displayed when Schmidt inquired where these Ground Rules came from.  The only response City Mgr. Jim Hock could muster was that they were virtually identical to the ones that have been used in the past.  In other words: Don’t blame me because we mindlessly did this year what we mindlessly did last year, and what others mindlessly did before us.

That’s what passes for “management” from Hock, the City’s CEO who earlier this year was given a brand new 2-year contract worth $200,000+/year, all in, by the five recently-departed aldermen and current Alds. Rich DiPietro and Joe Sweeney.  And as if that compensation package wasn’t attractive enough, Hock’s new contract also includes a “super” severance provision that pays him $117,000 and up if he is terminated without sufficient “cause.”  

Hock’s business-as-usual comment elicited a quick rebuke from Schmidt: “From this point forward I am forever banning the phrase ‘this is how we’ve always done it’.”

That’s a good first step toward ridding City Hall of the complacency that had infected it for years under old city manager Tim Schuenke, and that has shown no signs of abating during Hock’s three-year reign.

But we confess to being totally bumfuzzled as to why Schmidt didn’t press Hock and his subordinates a lot harder Monday night for the answers to the many questions these Ground Rules present, including:

  • Who actually agreed to them on the City’s behalf? 
  • By what legal authority did he/she do so?   
  • Why didn’t he/she inform the mayor and City Council, either in advance or immediately after the fact?

Schmidt’s a trial lawyer by trade, but he must have checked his cross-examination skills at the door before meekly agreeing to let the Butler Place bureaucrats take the next two weeks (until the next regular Council meeting on May 16) to come up with a plausible CYA story, even though the heart of the City’s “negotiating team” – Hock, Deputy City Mgr. Julianna Maller and Fire Chief Mike Zywanski – was sitting right there in front of him.    

Secret negotiations with public employee unions are just plain wrong.  Unlike private-sector labor negotiations, public-sector negotiations impose involuntary financial burdens on the City’s taxpayers.  That’s why those taxpayers deserve to know the details of these public employee negotiations from start to finish: they deserve to know what the City employees unions are demanding, just as they deserve to know what their public officials are offering. 

And they deserve to know it in real time, when it matters – especially when the City’s negotiators barely have any skin in the game: As we understand it, Maller and Zywanski don’t even live in Park Ridge, so whatever wage and/or benefit increases they give away don’t show up on their property tax bills.  And we don’t get the sense that Hock, although required to live in Park Ridge by City Code, is putting down any long-term roots here.

With these Ground Rules in place, our public officials can’t even tell us the union’s demand or the City’s offer without the risk of being found to have committed an unfair labor practice that would subject the City to fines.  So by agreeing to these Ground Rules, some City bureaucrat basically put our public officials under a gag order about the progress of these negotiations.

Not surprisingly, uber-bureaucrat Hock came up with a rationalization for why secret negotiations are a good thing for the taxpayers: “If the union knows how much money [the City is] willing to settle in terms of a wage increase, [the City will] never settle for less than that amount.”

To which Schmidt responded: “The City Council should be deciding ahead of time what [the City is] willing to offer, and then offer no more [than that].”

Exactly.

But instead, our bureaucrats – who act as if City government exists for their personal benefit – enter into agreements to keep negotiations secret, without even telling the mayor and the aldermen.  And by doing so they enable the unions to make whatever demands and threats (e.g., strikes) they feel like, without worrying about how they will look and sound to the people who pay their salaries and benefits.

Which is why agreeing to these Ground Rules was incompetent and foolish.  And hiding them from the mayor and the Council was unacceptably devious.

To read or post comments, click on title.

2 comments so far

I do not believe the Fire Dept or Police Dept can strike.

EDITOR’S NOTE: That is correct: 5 ILCS 315/17 prohibits strikes by police, firefighters and paramedics. All other public employees who are represented by a union, however, have that right.

If you do not think it is ok for closed door negotiations , you just need to change 5 ILCS 315/24 – which states ” The provisions of the Open Meeting Act shall not apply to collective bargaining negotiations and grievance arbitration conducted pursuant to this act “. Oddly enough , the state and teacher’s unions agreed to major changes due to the economy and public sentiment – behind closed doors. You may also be interested in the fact that firefighters have not been allowed to strike in Illinois in over 30 years. But that fact may stand in the way of your “union threats ” idea.

EDITOR’S NOTE: So long as the Democrats control Springfield, the public employee unions will not allow any change in the status quo.

But if there are no “union threats” or other untoward conduct – by the union negotiators or the City’s – then why not have the negotiations held in open sessions? Don’t the unions want to show the taxpayers just how reasonable they’re being with their bargaining demands (or should we call them mere “requests”)?



Leave a comment
Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>