Veto Over-Ride Tonight Will Signal More Bad Employment Policy (Updated)


Tonight the Park Ridge City Council will vote (at 7:00 p.m. at City Hall, 505 Butler Place) to either sustain or over-ride Mayor Dave Schmidt’s vetoes of the Illinois Council Of Police and Sheriffs (“ICOPS”) collective bargaining agreement for 32 unionized public safety employees, and raises for 46 salaried non-union City employees. 

We discussed these raises in our 08.23.12 post, “Will August Spending Bring November Taxing?”, so we won’t repeat those arguments here.  The same goes for our 07.25.12 post, “$48,101 Increase Keeps City Wages Spiraling Upward”, questioning the empty-headed “rationale” given by the City’s H.R. Manager – who our since-fired city manager Jim Hock appointed to that position despite the appointee’s lack of H.R. expertise – and the City’s temporary H.R. consultant, other than to remind our readers of their wiseacre comment that “[t]he process of giving pay raises…[has] been happening since before the birth of Christ.”

Hilarious, aren’t they?

Whether any of the 5 aldermen who voted to give those raises in the first place (Alds. Sweeney, DiPietro, Smith, Raspanti and Maloney) will change their minds and join presumptive veto-sustainers Alds. Knight and Mazzuca to provide the 3 votes necessary to sustain either of Schmidt’s vetoes remains to be seen, but we’re not betting the ranch on it.  None of those five have even tried to articulate a compelling reason for those raises, other than such raises seemed like the “fair” thing to do.

Why are they “fair”?

We have no idea, because those aldermen ran into closed session to discuss the raises in secret – ostensibly to keep the information from the ICOPS negotiators but, just as likely, to keep their own constituents in the dark about just how superficial and bereft of actual analysis those closed session discussions were.  That would explain why, when it came time to vote on the raises, none of those aldermen or any City staffers identified any of the performance metrics or other criteria traditionally used to justify raises, such as increased productivity or increased cost savings/profits. 

So what do the taxpayers get from these raises, if not better performance?

As best as we can figure, nothing more than employee longevity: keeping long-time City employees with the City instead of watching them go elsewhere.  But what value does longevity provide the City’s taxpayers if it doesn’t result in quantifiable productivity increases or increased cost savings?

Ald. Sweeney?  Ald. DiPietro? Ald. Smith?  Ald. Raspanti? Ald. Maloney?  Anybody?  Bueller?

Without performance metrics these “negotiations” become just an arbitrary numbers game: the employees propose an arbitrarily big number just so they can compromise it down to something that is still acceptable.  Which might explain why the previous ICOPS contract contained incredible 5% step increases which have been “compromised” down to 2%; and why the previous contract provided for an incredible 29 vacation days – yes, basically 6 weeks! – after 15 years, which ICOPS has now “compromised” down to a mere 20 days after 11 years.

We’ve heard a couple of these aldermen and a few City bureaucrats mumble about keeping up with the cost of living.  Not only is that rationale unrelated to actual value being conferred on the City by its employees, but it also sets a dangerous precedent by effectively making the City the guarantor of its employees’ buying power, since the cost of living is a buying-power metric rather than a productivity one.

If the cost of living is a valid public policy basis for compensation increases when the CPI is at 2%, then shouldn’t it be an equally valid policy basis if/when the CPI goes up to 5%?  Or up to 10%?  Is that really sound management?

At the August 20th Council meeting, Ald. Knight indicated that he would not support any proposed increase in compensation until the City did a comprehensive review of its pay practices and salary structure.  He emphasized his frustration with the City’s practice of one-off, piecemeal compensation decision-making that ignores the inter-relationship of these compensation increases and their impact on the City’s overall financial position.

That’s exactly right – although the blank and downcast looks on the faces of most of the other folks around The Horseshoe when Knight said it suggests that those other folks lack the recognition and/or the will to see and act on such a fiscally-sound principle, especially when they appear motivated more by a desire to be liked than by the desire to do what’s right for the City as a whole.

If tonight’s votes over-ride Schmidt’s vetoes, that will be a sure sign that taxpayers can expect the City to keep chasing its own tail while bureaucrats and aldermen continue their practice of what amounts to giving arbitrary “gifts” to City employees – money and benefits unrelated to any additional value being conferred on the City or its taxpayers.

And that will also be a sign that the City’s finances will continue on life-support until a substantial tax increase becomes inevitable, perhaps as early as this November.

UPDATE (09.18.12)  The Council over-rode Schmidt’s veto of the salaried employees’ raises by a vote of 5 (Alds. Sweeney, DiPietro, Smith, Raspanti and Maloney) to 2 (Alds. Knight and Mazzuca), after Sweeney donned the mantle of advocate for those salaried employees because, as he explained it, they needed one due to their not being represented by a union.    

But when it came to the ICOPS contract, Sweeney turned on a dime and voted with Knight and Mazzuca to achieve the 3 votes needed to sustain the veto – but only after he predicted that sustaining the veto would wreak an Armegeddon on the City, including unfair labor practice charges, union picketing, other unionized employees refusing to cross picket lines, and the effective shut-down of City government.  

If Sweeney truly believes all those things actually will happen from Schmidt’s veto being sustained, then his vote to sustain the veto would appear to be the single most irresponsible thing any alderman or mayor has done over the past 20 years…and THAT’s saying something! 

We’ll be writing more about this in tomorrow’s post, so stay tuned.

To read or post comments, click on title.

17 comments so far

Are there any limits on how much the City can increase our taxes for the real estate portion of the tax bill before it would have to go to referendum?

EDITOR’S NOTE: No, based on our understanding that as a home rule community the City is not restricted by the tax caps that limit the taxing power of the school districts and park district.

i haven’t received a raise in 3 years because my employer has cut staff by 20% and I’m just glad to have a job. Do these public employees have any idea what that’s like?

EDITOR’S NOTE: We doubt it. And most of our elected representatives who engage in these alternate reality give-aways don’t seem to care.

What does Schmidt have against public employees? They are the reason this city works at all, yet all he does is criticize them and try to prevent them from earning a decent living for them and their families. He sounds like Mitt Romney.

EDITOR’S NOTE: If Schmidt sounded like either Mitt Romney or Barack Obama, we’d be talking up Larry Ryles’ candidacy.

We don’t recall Schmidt criticizing City employees generally. Each of his veto messages and his state of the City speeches, as we recall, went out of their way to praise City employees. But as we’ve written many times, public employment – especially unionized public employment – seems to spin in its own orbit, unconnected to the reality that the rest of us in private industry deal with on a daily basis.

Sorry, I got confused for a moment. I thought you were talking about Chicago Public School teachers.

At this point, what happened last night, happened. Regardless, as anon 4:28 questioned “do they have any idea?” as to what it is like in the public sector, they may, but most likely don’t care. I manage a large group of people for a large company. Not only have salaries been frozen for several years, many of the employees (including myself) have had to take pay cuts. Management made the decision to cut pay vs. layoffs because we still need to service out clients. Unlike us homeowners when the city employees chose layoffs a couple of years ago and then cut services, our clients would just leave if we did that.

If any one of the Aldermen should understand this concept, it would be DePietro who owns his own business. If he was losing money, what would Rich do? Throw money he doesn’t have at his employees, including the underperforming ones? Or explain to them that if costs are not reeled in, there will be no hand to bite.

Of course, the City is not going to go out of business and the employees know that. But if they don’t like the fiscal management of it, leave. It’s not as if there isn’t a endless supply of available replacement workforce ready to jump in.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We share your puzzlement with DiPietro’s seeming cluelessness when it comes to managing, compensating, and holding City employees accountable. As a 2nd Ward alderman since 1995, his fingerprints are on basically everything the City has done during that time – although we don’t recall ever having heard him accept responsibility for any the problems the City is facing despite his voting for most/all of them. Like Charles Grodin’s “Murray Blum” character in the movie “Dave” told the eponymous presidential imposter: “If I ran my business like that, I’d be out of business.” Presumably, Richie D – and the other spendthrifts on the Council – run their private lives differently from their public ones.

I was there. “Alderman” Sweeney made as big an ass out of himself as anyone has ever done so in the Council chambers. I should say, he made a bigger ass of himself that anyone has ever done.

Seeing you say you will have more on this tomorrow I won’t go into the details but suffice to say the start to finish of “Alderman” Sweeney’s actions, from his statement in support of the non-union pay raises to his bizarre flailing about to be THE vote to sustain the veto of the ICOPS deal, was probably the weirdest thing to ever occur at a meeting. And if not the weirdest, then in the top two!

Say what you will about the Mayor’s veto, and like it or or not, it seems at least he issued the veto based on some principle. And even if you don’t like his principle it’s hard to dispute that’s what motivates him.

“Alderman” Sweeney on the other hand was so transparently political (?) / stupid (??) or otherwise and so lacking in principle in what he did it was downright embarrassing. I don’t know how the guy can look himself in the mirror after that.

So, if the city faces the Armegeddon that “Alderman” Sweeney predicted fingers can certainly be pointed at the Mayor and Knight/Mazzuca but fingers, toes and anything else you have should be pointed at “Alderman” Sweeney for so resolutely predicting Armegeddon and then voting to bring it upon the City. Truly, what an imbecile.

EDITOR’S NOTE: “Political” and “stupid” usually go hand-in-hand, and they tend to be the antithesis of good government. Sounds like a Sweeney trifecta on this vote.

reminds one of when former Alderman Bach reprimanded some local car dealer for his greedy ways, told the fellow he would never buy another car from him, and then blithely voted to give the dealer the giveaway he’d requested. Clearly, one’s own money is real money, and City money (like Federal money, to loosely quote former Mayor Frimark) is not “real” money.

EDITOR’S NOTE: But, unlike Sweeney, Bach didn’t admit to knowingly be throwing the City under the bus.

Couple of people said the aldermen don’t understand the averege PR resident, and while I’m not disagreeing with them, the thing to consider is they to have day jobs so what gives?

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re not exactly sure what is meant by not understanding “the average PR resident,” or whether that includes all the aldermen or just certain ones.

I’ve often suspected that Sweeney doesn’t know what the heck he’s talking about. Monday’s antics seem to confirm that.

The key phrase about DiPietro in Anon 9.18 7:38 am’s comment is: “Throw money he doesn’t have.” It’s true not only in the sense that the money isn;t in the City’s budget, but that the money comes from other people. OPM — Other People’s Money — is a strange drug with amazing abilities to addle many a legislator.

Which could explain Sweeney’s performance, at least as you report it. I gave up on that guy a long time ago…he seems unhinged.

Say it ain’t so Joe. What kind of stand was that?

Who representing the City tentatively agreed to this ICOPS contract? Shouldn’t they be held accountable? I don’t think you can toss this one at Hock anymore.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re pretty certain these negotiations were started while Hock was still at the helm, but we’re also pretty certain they were delegated to other folks with no more common sense about these matters than the ex-city manager.

To 10:41: “And if not the weirdest, then in the top two!”

Just curious, what was the other one?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Good question!

Another Sweeney head scratcher: he first described the new water rate structure as a decision the city would regret and voted against the higher rates, only at a subsequent meeting to vote against reconsideration of the rates.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We wouldn’t be surprised if clueless Joe already has been checking out his do-over options.

That was weird. Say it ain’t so Joe. What side of the issue were you on?

Who agreed to this contract before it was voted on by the Council? That person, or people, should be held accountable.

Times are tough for everybody-both the private and public sectors. When the City does away with all the hand outs, parades, special events, fireworks, tree lighting, etc….anything beyond basic services, then I know they are serious about getting the City’s house in order. Anything short of that is political posturing.

EDITOR’S NOTE: At least clueless Joe put his boneheadedness on public display. We wonder what passes for sound public policy in the minds of the four unsuccessful veto over-riders who voted without explanation.

While I agree that Ald. Sweeney’s vote cannot be defended, his point about the City now facing litigation before a pro-union arbitrator is probably accurate. So, I have a question: Since Ald. Sweeney voted to sustain the Mayor’s veto, doesn’t this give Mr. Sweeney the standing to request the City Council revisit the override vote? If I am correct about this, Alderman Sweeney could: a) request a new vote on the mayoral veto; and b) then change his vote. If Ald. Sweeney did this, the City could escape the costs of litigation before a panel that would surely award the police union at least as much as the contract which was originally approved by the City Council.

EDITOR’S NOTE If the City just rolled over and gave into EVERY wage, benefit and conditions request made by its unionized employees there would NEVER be ANY risk of arbitration, litigation or strikes. Oh, wait…that’s what previous mayors and Councils – the ones who ran up multi-million dollar deficits while neglecting infrastructure – always used to do.

#1 weird thing…
Then Alderman Carey getting a brain freeze when it came time to cast his vote for / against giving the Napleton dealership $400,000 as then Mayor HOward Frimark attempted to cajole Carey into voting FOR the giveaway. when Carey could not figure out if a yea or nay was for the deal and simply abstained he left Frimark to cast the deciding vote to give his buddy and campaign donor the $400,000.

OK… this may not have been weirder but it was sure weird.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We loved the Carey brain freeze, although we thought it centered on a simple math function, as we described in our 01.30.08 post. The real O’Henry-esque quality to that, howver, was that it forced Frimark into making a tie-breaking vote.

Dear Editor,

You have a point in that I can’t think of any pay increases that Alderman Sweeney has opposed. But, Ald. Sweeney’s vote to uphold THIS mayoral veto is likely to have the exact effect he said he opposed even though he voted to expose the City to that exact damage. It is still uniquely in Alderman Sweeney’s capacity to reverse the damage he predicts he will have done with his vote. So, Mr. Sweeney COULD reverse the vote if he truly is concerned about the damage he claims to be bringing onto Park Ridge.

EDITOR’S NOTE: If he truly were “concerned about the damage he claims to be bringing onto Park Ridge,” he wouldn’t have voted the way he did in the first place. So either his tales of woe were manufactured heifer dust, or he’s grossly irresponsible.

Ald. Maloney clearly stated that it was expected that an alderman would vote in the way that each alderman thought would be in the best interest of the City. Alderman Sweeney stated that the best interest of Park Ridge would be if the mayor’s veto would be overridden. Having said that, Ald. Sweeney voted the other way. Whether Mr. Sweeney was propounding “heifer dust” or was just irresponsible is a matter of judgement. But, it is within Mr. Sweeney’s purview to right the wrong he acknowledges to have committed. Because of the unique nature of his vote, Ald. Sweeney has the ability to save Park Ridge the costs that he claims his vote will bring about.

I support almost all the vetoes made by Mayor Schmidt. I applaud the mayor’s determination to save taxpayer money. But, Alderman Sweeney is correct about the costs of the veto of ICOPS. It is not possible to support both what Ald. Sweeney says AND what Ald. Sweeney did. His actions are inconsistent with his words. But, because Alderman Sweeney’s vote was with what carried the day, Mr. Sweeney has the authority to call for a reconsideration of the override vote AND he has the ability to change the outcome of his vote.

The editor of this blog is completely correct in that the City must draw the line somewhere concerning pay raises. But, this particular veto strikes me as an almost certain loser. Neither the Council nor the Mayor was clear to the City’s negotiator about what could be accepted. Bad management by the elected officials ought not to be an excuse to expose Park Ridge taxpayers to additional costs. Alderman Sweeney should swallow his pride and do the right thing for the citizens of this city.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Under Illinois law as we understand it, all negotiated public contracts are tentative and non-final until (a) the union membership ratifies it; and (b) the City Council approves it, which process includes the possibility of a mayoral veto. If Sweeney is correct that the Council’s sustaining the mayor’s veto will be an unfair labor practice (“ULP”), then by implication so would have been any initial Council vote dis-approving the contract. And if the Council’s dis-approval would have been a ULP, that would effectively render the City negotiators’ tentative agreement a final and binding contract, thereby making Council approval a nullity. We cannot agree with that kind of twisted construction of Illinois law that would make Council approval legitimate legislative action but dis-approval a ULP.

That being said, the process by which the City Council decides what authorization is going to be given to its negotiators is clearly a flawed one. As we’ve argued before, the City should hold OPEN debate and seek public input on what any contract proposal should be BEFORE the negotiations begin – rather than the aldermen running and hiding in closed sessions which keep the Council’s deliberations on what constitutes a “fair” contract secret from the public. And from the work product we’ve seen from the City’s negotiators, they shouldn’t be supplied with anything sharper than a crayon.

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