Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Sour Grapes?

That's probably part of the reason for my negative reaction to the report of a proposed pay raise for city employees:
Over the loud protests of many firefighters, the New Orleans Civil Service Commission voted 4-0 Monday to raise most other city workers' pay by 10 percent starting Nov. 1, and to raise the minimum wage for the lowest-paid of those workers to $7.50 an hour, as requested late last week by Mayor Ray Nagin's administration.

I would imagine that the reaction of most of the city's laid off workers ranges from mildly peeved to angrier than the firefighters. But there are several items (in order of increasing importance) in today's article that should be of legitimate concern to everyone in the city:
"This administration understands that the cost of living has increased since Hurricane Katrina and the work load for city employees has doubled...."Hatfield said

A minor matter by itself, but it's important whenever an administration makes absurd statements or contradicts its statements about some matters, when giving it reasons for its decisions on other matters. Brenda Hatfield managed to do both in one sentence. I'd love to rant about the absurdity of the doubled workload, but it's the least important item in the article. Also, I don't want to argue against a pay raise for most workers, but the doubled workload is a joke.

The cost of living increase as a justification for a pay raise contradicts everything the mayor says about rents and living expenses in general returning to normal. At most, it would justify a hardship bonus until the city determines what its post-Katrina employment situation will be.

I know that elected officials often sound college coaches talking up their teams when they're trying to impress bowl officials and pollsters and talking down their teams when they lower fan expectations, but it can go so far. If a college coach over does it, it becomes a joke. If an elected official does it too much, he risks a loss credibility. Mayor Nagin's doing it to an extent that would make Bobby Bowden blush.
She said the city can pay for the raises because of improvements in the city's economy and revenue picture and the arrival of federal community disaster loans.

Loans--to cover a pay raise? Will city workers also be given bottles of champagne along with their mid-November paychecks?

But the truly important point is:
The administration apparently intends to keep the city's work force well below pre-Katrina levels for the foreseeable future. The city laid off about half its civilian workers last fall to save money.(over 60% excluding police officers and firefighters)

That can only mean more private contracts for services that were provided by city workers. That alone isn't a sign of corruption; it would be consistent with the mayor's governing philosophy. But combined with a lack of openness, it certainly can lead to it. At the very least, it points out the need for transparency about contract decisions, stricter bidding rues and a clearer definition of what constitutes a professional services contract. Those are all ideas that the mayor indicated some support for when he first ran for mayor--4 1/2 years ago.

While it's true that the only pay raise most city workers have received in the last several years was a 5% pay raise in 2004. That's not the case for department heads and other high ranking employees. The huge pay raises for those employees might have brought their salaries in line with officials with similar positions in other cities, but they no longer have the same responsibilities or the same size staffs to supervise, yet they're also getting 10% pay raises.

A city official said of the firemen:
DiRosa and Civil Service Commission members said firefighters should not necessarily benefit from every raise awarded to other city workers because they are the only workers who by state mandate get a 2 percent annual raise for 20 years, which cumulatively amounts to about 48 percent.

It might be true that firefighters were the only workers to get longevity raises, but they weren't the only workers to get their own separate raises.

Comments:
I wonder how long it will be before the Times P has the guts to write a story like this one?

And is when is New Orleans going to realize it is sinking due to organized crime run by a secret private company that is bigger than Microsoft. I mean come on, how do you expect levees.org to compete with this? And don't forget to check out the interactive map by Clicking here, then clicking launch and clicking the window
 
I think Dambala, uh, excuse me, the T-P's expose of Mr. Meffert points up exactly what's wrong with the mayor's move to privatize city government. Our experience with insurance companies, for example, should tell us that the private sector right now is anything but our friend, and the increasing disclosures about our Mayor show that between the large, national and interntional corrupt organizations (think Haliburton) we will be turning over our recovery to politically linked profiteers. We need city government out in the open more than ever now.
 
I'm thinking back to the debates when John Snell actually asked the candidates about the libraries. Nagin blabbered about maybe getting Starbucks to do... something. His whole answer was vague and filled with privatization leaning codespeak... but there was nothing there resembling an actual intent toward action beyond that. So far he has been true to his word.
 
Actually, I liked the Starbucks idea--except for the Starbucks part. Other libraries rent out space for a snack bar or coffee shop. I actually had a conversation with my former (your current) boss about it long before the election. She rightly pointed out that Smith or Algiers might be better locations. But it does work in Jefferson. Of course, the rent wouldn't be enough to do much for the library, but it might increase patronage and public support. Whatever you think of Starbucks, it's disconcering that he thought of a national firm rather than one of at least 3 La. companies. But, I don't think you can privatize the actual work of the library.

The city work force is being privatized, almost certainly. I'm not sure how planned out it is, however, when you have no plans to bring back the 60% of the civilian work force that you've laid off, but have started awarding contracts for the work that they did, it's obvious. Hate to keep repeating it, but 14 street maintenance workers, but several contracts for road work being awarded--the thing speaks for itself.

Which is why I find the failure to eliminate some upper level positions ridiculous. At the library, it appears they've combined a couple of departments (partly due to retirement), but the administration will be as large as ever once they hire a new city librarian. Same thing at NORD. Sanitation never streamlined the executive staff after it privatized everything. Instead of cutting back on upper level employees, the mayor wants to give them all raises. We'll have people making six figures to oversee staffs of 20-50 people. And they'll all have a deputy, who makes almost as much, to help them do it.
 
Z, Ive heard of Koch, but not much because they're private. Of course the same thing is true of ECC, which has major contracts for both Gulf and Iraq reconstruction. Does Koch have contracts here, or only in Mississippi.
 
Oh I'm not objecting to renting library space to a coffee shop... We used to dream about it in the East.. particularly since it was so hard to find a decent cup of coffee out there.

But I think... well I think we both know that Nagin is more interested in finding ways to contract out services than he is in renting space for coffee shops
 
Sorry Jeffrey, I misread your first comment to mean that he had only made vague moves toward privatization. At the time of the debate, I wondered whether an obvious idea, but one that could only bring in a miniscule amount of money was his idea of visionary. Maybe it was really intended as a signal that he was planning to contract out everything possible. Didn't give him credit for the coded message.
 
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