Fortunately, Mayor Schmidt Is No Gov. Quinn


Monday night (Oct. 3) Mayor Dave Schmidt vetoed the 3-year firefighters union contract that was approved by the City Council on September  19.  In his veto message, he criticized the new contract for only two reasons: the 3% increase in the contract’s third year, which he wants to subject to a re-opener (re-negotiation) if economic conditions warrant it; and the new no-layoff provision, which he wants to eliminate. 

We were disappointed that the City Council passed a contract containing those very significant flaws by a 6-0 vote (Seventh Ward Ald. Marty Maloney was absent) – especially when the minutes of that September 19, 2011 meeting show that only Alds. Dan Knight (5th) and Tom Bernick (6th), along with Schmidt, asked any meaningful questions about the contract’s terms during what passed for Council “debate.”  Across-the-board increases unrelated to improved performance and productivity are hallmarks of bad management, whether in the public or the private sector.

But the most important reason why the mayor’s veto should be sustained is the no-layoff provision.  And if you doubt just how important it is for the City to retain its unfettered right to lay off employees in order to manage expenditures, look no further than the editorial in yesterday’s (Oct. 4) Chicago Tribune, titled “Selling out Illinois.”

That editorial justifiably rips Illinois’ latest ethically-challenged governor, Pat Quinn, for selling out the state’s taxpayers one year ago by…wait for it…cutting a no-layoff deal for state employees.  Now he’s trying to back out of that deal because…wait for it…the state can’t afford all those employees.   The editorial also notes that, in exchange for that no-layoff promise, “the union made some minor cost concessions” – kind of like our firefighters union agreeing to no wage increase this year as the proverbial carrot for a 2% increase next year and the 3% increase the year after that.  

But unlike the governor, who cut his deal with the state’s largest employees union to gain its endorsement of his election bid, we don’t see any evidence of a similar quid pro quo sell-out by the City Council members who approved the firefighters deal.   It seems as if they just decided to give away across-the-board, non-merit based increases and a no-layoff guaranty because the City’s “negotiating team” and its labor attorney recommended it, or they think such raises and guaranties are what government is supposed to do.

Unfortunately, it’s looking more and more like the City’s “negotiating team” was the sell-out.  

As we understand it, that “team” was nominally headed by City Mgr. Jim Hock, although he purportedly delegated his primary responsibility to Fire Chief Mike Zywanski, Dep. Chief Jeff Sorensen, and one or more unidentified Battalion Chiefs (the “Fire Guys”).  Hock apparently was oblivious to the risks of letting the Fire Guys – long-time firefighters union members before accepting their promotions to “management” – run contract negotiations with their former “frat brothers.”    

We can only wonder if the Fire Guys showed Hock their fraternity’s secret handshake as part of the deal. 

What else but a sell-out would explain why the City got stuck with a set of negotiation “Ground Rules” requiring that all demands, offers and other such details of the negotiations be kept totally secret and not reported to the public.  And if that doesn’t sound kinky enough, consider that not only did the Fire Guys lack the legal authority to bind the City to those Ground Rules, but they did so without even telling the mayor or the Council.  And then they kept the Ground Rules secret for months afterwards. 

Accrording to the minutes of the May 2, 2011, Council meeting, “[t]he origination of the Ground Rules agreement remained questionable” to that point, in large part because both Hock and Chief Z, despite being present that night, apparently lacked whatever virtues it would have taken for them to stand up and tell the truth then and there – something Chief Z finally got around to doing at the May 16 meeting, when he belatedly admitted (according to that meeting’s minutes) to “presenting the ‘Ground Rules’ to the union” after checking “with a labor attorney and Human Resources” personnel whom he conveniently failed to identify. 

What makes things even more interesting is that, as also reported in the Sept. 19 Council minutes, the City’s bill for those secret negotiations is “approximately $40,000 thus far, non-inclusive of staff time.”  Could the “labor attorney” with whom Chief Z claims to have consulted also be the recipient of that astounding expense?  And could that attorney be Dina Kapernekas, even though we cannot find the minutes of the Council meeting at which her retention by the City for this purpose was approved? 

It should be noted that Schmidt’s latest veto is consistent with his previous veto of a 3% across-the-board increase for non-union City employees.  The Council’s vote on sustaining or over-riding that earlier veto was to have occurred at Monday night’s meeting, but it was postponed by the Council in order to give Hock and City staff a chance to prepare a comparative analysis of other municipalities’ salary structures.

Why wasn’t that kind of analysis prepared before Hock and staff recommended those 3% increases, and before the Council’s original vote that Schmidt vetoed?  Could it be because such comparisons would show that the City’s employees are already better paid than their counterparts in other communities?

We agree with the Tribune that Illinois taxpayers continue to be sold-out by Gov. Quinn.  And it looks to us like Park Ridge taxpayers are being sold-out by some of our City employees, with both this firefighters contract and the non-union raises serving as two of the most recent examples.

Will our elected officials do something about it, or will they just look the other way and rubber-stamp the results?

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