On Tuesday, August 28, 2012, the City of Satellite Beach held what will be the last “budget workshop” for the 2012 – 2013 City Budget. The next step should be on September 5, 2012, where the City Council will hear comments from citizens on the budget.
For the most part, the meeting on Tuesday night was pretty perfunctory as the items had all been discussed and this seemed to be more of a meeting to make sure the items were in the correct places in the budget.
The budget part of the meeting was so mundane and predictable that there were no citizen comments. We hope this means that most people can live with the budget, and not that they are tired of fighting over the budget. Time and the meeting on September 5th will tell.
But there were two items of interest that popped up during the meeting.
The first was a report from Dania Billman on the progress of the Beachcaster. Ms. Billman said there was a problem with the ads in the Beachcaster. The plan was for the city to sell ads to help finance the printing and mailing of the Beachcaster. In theory, this is a good idea. You have to make sure that the money you get from selling ads not only pays for the planned pages of the publication, but also for the additional pages with ads.
When the committee went to sell ads in the Beachcaster, someone decided to buy what can be called a “free speech” ad as opposed to an advertisement for a business or service. When the Beachcaster first started to look at selling ads, this was a discussed issue. The idea of someone purchasing an ad for the May issue saying “Good Luck Satellite High Graduates” was looked upon by the Beachcaster committee as a great thing. The concern at the time was not the “free speech” ads, but specifically an ad from “Tootsie’s,” the “gentleman’s bar” in the city. The Beachcaster Committee was worried what an ad from a strip club would do to the image of the Beachcaster.
The problem is, of course, when you start to reject ads based on their content, you have violated the First Amendment. A publication put out by a private group can deny an ad as they see fit. For governments, it is a little more tricky. The government cannot discriminate against ads based on content (within community standards.)
Furthermore, the idea of a political ad was discussed as well. For a person running for City Council or the Mayor of Satellite Beach, a $20 ad that will hit every home in the city is a great deal. It is a smart tactic for the candidates to buy such an ad. Political ads were approved by the Committee as well.
So when Dania Billman stepped up to the microphone and said they were reviewing the ad policy based on the “free speech” ads, we guessed the ads in question are those critical of the City Council. In fact, as she was talking, Councilman Billman kept shaking his head in disgust as if the idea of a free speech ad was somehow disdainful.
To us, denying the ads for content other than “community standards” seems somewhat hypocritical. Each and every time the Beachcaster is published, a sitting Councilperson or the Mayor appears in a column called “From the desk of…..” The column is designed to let the city residents know what is going on at the City Council level. Typically, the columns are very positive while promoting the agenda of the person writing the article. In essence, the taxpayers of Satellite Beach pay for a “pro-Council” piece each and every time the Beachcaster is published.
But now, with a “free speech” ad that may have advocated something about the City Council or Council members, the ads in the Beachcaster are for the time being, shut down.
Dissent shall not be tolerated.
The other item of interest was the proposed act of department heads to take a “furlough” to allow bonuses for their employees has been shelved. The plan originally was department heads would take a week of their salary and give it to those in their departments that made less than the median income of the citizens of Satellite Beach.
In that many of the city workers have not had a pay increase, this was a way for the department heads to say “thanks” to their workers. It was, and remains a brilliant way to lift the morale of city workers who are doing more with less. In that the money saved by the “furloughed” department heads would pay for the bonuses, there was no additional costs to the city.
This plan was, in our opinion, a win win for everyone. It showed the commitment to employees while maintaining current spending levels. It showed the sacrifice the department heads were willing to make for their people.
As time has gone by, we have watched this selfless act of the department heads be attacked by the City Council.
First it was the idea that the bonuses had to be paid out on merit instead of a bonus across the board to all employees. In that the city workers have been doing more with less resources and less staff, and have been doing so without pay increases for 4 years, we would be hard pressed to think any employee who has worked through those conditions has not risen about the standard and would not warrant a bonus based on “merit.” In addition, as we have seen during the budget negotiations, the department heads are very good and actually ahead of the curve when it comes to most matters within the city. To think the department heads have allowed people to remain employed that are not above the “norm” stretches the imagination.
The second objection was based on the idea of a “furlough” allowing the department head to receive unemployment benefits. Despite Florida Law saying the opposite, this was still floated by members of the City Council.
Remember, due to the department heads not taking pay, the money going to the workers was not going to cost the city any additional funds. Instead of paying Fred the Department Head, they were going to pay Sam the Worker Man a bonus.
One would think that would quiet those who were upset the city workers were being given a bonus, but it did not. Several Council members were still against the idea and basically have said “if the workers don’t like it, they can leave and find other jobs.”
We are less than thrilled with the loyalty shown by the Council to city workers.
However, the new fly in the ointment was the fact that as both the police and the fire departments and now unionized, the city cannot offer more compensation to the union workers. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has issued rulings on this before and have said that the compensation of a unionized worker is negotiated and cannot be supplemented by an employer. That ruling has caused the introduction of the “Rewarding Achievement and Incentivizing Successful Employees (RAISE) Act” by Marco Rubio in the US Senate and Todd Rokita in the US House of Representatives. (Both bills are currently languishing in Committees and will not likely see the light of day, even though they should.)
In part, because the two city unions cannot receive the bonuses, the City Council, the City Manager and the Department Heads have pulled the offer completely off of the table.
We aren’t happy about this at all.
First, instead of approving a way that would benefit the morale of city workers, this innovative solution that would not have cost the city an additional dime suffered death from a thousand cuts. It was clear the Council wanted the workers to know who was in charge and if they didn’t like it, they could try and find another job. Instead of looking to be innovative and appreciative of workers, Council members attacked this idea from the beginning.
Secondly, while we understand the NLRB’s rulings on unions and compensation, the NLRB ruling doesn’t apply to non-union workers. Why not just allow the bonus program to go to the non-union workers who qualify? If the answer is “that wouldn’t be fair to the union workers,” we disagree. No one forced people to join a union. There are benefits and challenges to being either in a union or being a “free hire.” People that voted to be in unions should not have any effect on those who have chosen not to be in a union.
Yet that is what has happened here. Non-union workers are prevented from receiving a gift from City Department Heads because of the unions.
That’s not right.
Furthermore, we need to note how and why the City’s fire department employees decided to unionize. Their decision was based on the threats and uncertainty of the current city council’s actions in towards both the fire department and the police department. Workers felt they could not trust the City Council, so they took steps to protect their jobs and livelihoods by forming a union.
(For the record, we here at Raised on Hoecakes are not for unions. It has been our experience that unions do not benefit the worker or organization in the long term. At one point in time, unions were needed due to safety reasons and unfair labor practices. Today, many of the safety issues and labor practices are codified in the law. We do not find a need for use for unions as in the past.)
That being said, we believe that this Council caused the fire department to unionize, which has now affected the compensation non-union workers receive. The lack of foresight and understanding of labor and labor relations by this Council is astounding on so many levels.
The current Council has laid at the feet of previous Councils what they characterize as compensation and benefits which are not inline with the private sector. To some extent, we agree prior decisions can and should be revisited. Knowing there are issues, you don’t want to complicate or make the issues worse, yet that is exactly what this Council has done.
Instead of solving problems in the human resource area, the current Council seems intent on making the situation worse. They have created an atmosphere where employees are not willing to work with the Council. The city government is devolving into an “us vs. them” mentality internally. That is never a healthy attitude in any endeavor – public or private.
When the department heads stood up and said “we want to give back to our employees with our own time, effort and money,” the City Council attacked the plan from the beginning. We believe this is in part because the City Council wants the money saved from the Department Heads not working to go back into the general fund of the city. Instead of working to find a way the department heads could give a gift to their employees, the City Council said “sorry – you can’t.”
Finally, mercifully, the plan has been killed. Instead of watching it writhing on the budget cutting floor, it is gone. For all the work and effort put into the plan, what did the City gain from it?
What did the employees gain?
What we do gain was more insight into a Council which appears to view people and the relationships between managers and workers as numbers on a ledger. Both the city and the workers are in much weaker, yet more adversarial positions. Instead of the city and the managers having a cost effective way of saying “thanks for sticking through the hard times with us,” the Council has said “we don’t care if you leave or not.”
Studies have shown that pay is never a great satisfier when it comes to employees. It is always a great dissatisfier. People seldom say “I hate this job because I am paid too much.” Employees will often say “I hate this job because I am not paid enough and that pay is an indicator of how much I am valued.”
The trick in an economy such as the one we find ourselves mired in is to make good economic decisions when it comes to employees as well as letting them know how valuable they are to the organization. Often you can cut compensation and benefits as long as the employee feels valued. This means if the compensation and benefits package for city employees was extravagant when compared to the private sector, that can be addressed as long as the employees still feel they are important to the workings of the city.
We find there is something odd about the City Council saying “we have the best employees in the county” and then saying “if they don’t like what we are doing, they can leave. Let them find a job elsewhere.” That says to the employee they aren’t the best, but instead are interchangeable cogs in the system. No one – and we mean no one – wants to feel that way. What made the bonus plan proposed by the Department Heads so great was that it acknowledged the cuts, it acknowledged the economy, it acknowledged the challenges in cutting staff and said to the employees, “thank you for sticking with us. This is why you are the best.”
The City Council has made a lot of hay in saying the city needs to be run like a business. In many ways we agree. The important thing to remember is that successful businesses treat and view employees – good employees – as important assets and not something to be taken for granted.
We fear the City Council has told city employees they don’t matter. Somehow we have managed to take a huge positive and turn it into a negative.
We believe nothing good will come from this.