Wednesday, October 04, 2006

We Are So O.K.

We are so O.K. that the city can afford to create a new $100,000 a year position for a Base Realignment and Closure director with a $42,000 a year assistant.

We are so O.K. that we can afford to spend millions on energy advisers who seem to have two clients.

We are so O.K. that our sanitation department can get by with 14 employees, because the city can afford to award lucrative contracts for private companies to do the work that city employees used to do.

We are so O.K. that we can afford to give all of our city employees pay raises, not just the police officers and fire fighters who need it. Who cares if most of the underpaid civilian workers (and that was often exaggerated) have been laid off, the remaining employees all deserve more money:
At the other end of the scale, the raises would handsomely benefit Nagin's well-paid executive staff, many of whom earn more than $100,000 annually.

We are so O.K. that we don't even need to ask about the likely cost of the pay increase:
The 10 percent raise before the council applies only to classified workers, but the administration and council are expected to support an ordinance providing the same increase to unclassified employees, meaning mayoral appointees not covered by Civil Service

We are so O.K. that nobody thinks the money might be better spent by putting more civilian employees in the police department or city planning or permits office.

Why are we so O.K.? Well, in addition to that $150M loan that we can fall back on, the mayor also seems to think the city is in line to receive more "Road Home" money. He recently said in TV interview (no link that I could find), that he expected the state to money left over (I think he said a few billion) from the "Road Home" housing money. All we have to do "keep a close eye" on Baton Rouge to make sure lawmakers from other parts of the state try to get money that should be going to New Orleans. Other parishes generally pay their employees (other than police officers) worse than New Orleans, but everything will be O.K. Nobody from another part of the state would ever possibly point to New Orleans' across the board pay increases and lucrative garbage contracts as evidence that his parish needed more help than New Orleans.

We're even so O.K. that our city council doesn't need to post information about meetings on its web site before they've been held. When things are so O.K., what do you need extra public input for?

We are so O.K. that any concerned emails that a city council member gets from an angry constituent, probably don't deserve a response:
Dear Mr. Carter,

As a laid off city worker, I find it unconscionable that the city council would even consider across the board pay raises for its remaining employees when it can't afford to bring back laid off employees. It would be bad enough if the layoff and limited rehiring decisions had been made according to rank, evaluation based ratings or seniority, but the fact that such decisions were almost entirely subjective led to an overwhelming degree of anger in my department, the public library. I can only assume that feelings are the same among former employees of other departments and that they'll also take an across the board pay raise as a slap in the face.

I know that most city workers are underpaid, but once the layoffs took place, I expected the upper level payroll to be brought in line with the lower level payroll. Though there hasn't been time to merge departments, I would have certainly expected the deputy director position to be eliminated in departments that lost most their staff. Within departments, I would have expected decimated bureaus to be combined and bureau chief positions to be eliminated. To my knowledge, where upper level positions have been eliminated, it's been the result of attrition. Frankly, I might have expected some reductions in pay for upper level employees; they are, after all, overseeing much smaller staffs. More importantly, most of the upper level staff received huge raises four years--much larger than the 5% across the board increase of two years ago. Eight employees alone received nearly a half million dollars a year in raises; another eight received similar pay increases. And they're going to get 10% pay raises.

The degree to which city workers is underpaid is slightly exaggerated where civilian employees are concerned. I took about a $5,000.00 a year pay cut when I went from the public library to a university library. Believe it or not, the New Orleans Public Library seems to pay most of its employees better than other public library systems or most universities in the state. However, librarians with advanced degrees do make more at university libraries.

I'm not saying that the Library pays well and I do know that some other departments have lower pay scales. However, I do wonder how the layoffs have affected average pay for civilian employees. I suspect that median pay has doubled for city workers other than police and firefighters. I certainly suspect that average pay for civilian employees is now higher than that of police officers and firemen; it was lower before the layoffs. It wouldn't surprise me if more employees earn above $40K than below $25K; do you know if any of those conjectures are correct? Do you also know how average city employee pay compares to median income for the city as a whole? If not, I would respectfully suggest that you find the answer to those questions before voting.

Even though police officers and firefighters comprise over half of the city's remaining workforce (at least they did immediately after the layoffs), only about half of the $11M in proposed pay increases appears to be going to those departments. That would certainly indicate that other employees are earning more. More importantly, that's $5-6M that could be spent elsewhere. I can certainly think of better places--there's a backlog in both the permits and planning offices and, according to Eyewitness News, police officers are not on patrol duty because they're performing the desk duties of laid off civilian employees.

With the mayor having recently expressed the fear that officials in other parishes will try to get some of the Road Home money that should be going to New Orleans, isn't this the wrong time to be granting an across the board pay increase? It shouldn't matter, but it will certainly be mentioned in legislative debates over state spending.

Finally, whenever I read articles about city finances, I get the impression that the mayor thinks of that $150M private loan package as money the city can fall back on. Since we know that the terms of that loan weren't so favorable after all, six per cent interest and $3.75M in upfront money, that would be a horribly irresponsible position. The loan would cost the city almost $13M in interest and fees the first year alone. If the city council approves the pay raise, I'll be angry enough. If it passes the pay raise, and then has to take out the $150M loan, I'll move and refuse to spend any money in Orleans Parish. I won't even use the Coke machine at work.


That was last Thursday, I wrote a more restrained email to Arnie Fielkow on Monday. The ending was simply:
With all respect, I think those figures might merit a second look before a final vote.

Please take a second look at the issue before it comes up for a full (vote) in the city council. Sincerely,

Neither email has received a response. I did leave out the (vote) in the second email.


Tremendous information and encapsulation. This is what blogs are for.
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