Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Toledo mayor issues layoff notices

If you live in the Toledo area, you've probably heard that Mayor Carty Finkbeiner issued layoff notices to more than 1,000 city employees. The layoff starts at the end of business Feb. 13, 2009 and the notice does not give a return date, though the mayor has previously said it will be for a week.

One city worker emailed me at WSPD with the exact text of his notice:

"The City of Toledo is experiencing serious financial problems. Unfortunately, in order to correct these problems, the City must reduce its work force through a layoff process. This action will be effective as of February 13, 2009. Your last day worked in your current position will be the close of business on February 13, 2009. A copy of this letter has been forwarded to your union."

Carty also issued a press release:

City of Toledo Issues Additional Layoff Notices

Additional layoff notices were sent out today to City of Toledo employees, announcing a Citywide layoff, affecting all non-Safety Service employees. This layoff will begin on Friday, February 13. All layoff and recall procedures relating to the City's union contracts will be scrupulously followed.

Yesterday, while filling in for Brian Wilson from 3-6 p.m. on WSPD, I interviewed Alan Cox, the president of AFSCME Local 2058 which represents the supervisory staff in the city. He said that the layoffs are supposed to be 'non-essential' personnel, but that 'non-essential' is not defined in any of the city contracts.

Ken, the city worker who emailed me, works in the Water Reclamation Department. Cox said even the chemists in the lab at the Water Department are getting notices. Many would say that Water Reclamation is an 'essential service.'

City leaders are bemoaning the lack of revenue as a result of the economic conditions. However, the economic conditions are just a small part of the problem.

Recently, there have been major news stories about our unemployment rate. In the most recent numbers, it shows Lucas County as having the highest unemployment of all the urban counties in Ohio. That's bad - I agree.

However, what's worst is that, for the last 20 years or so, Lucas County has had the highest unemployment rate of all the urban counties in the state. This was nothing new! And it calls into question the local political leadership that has 'led' this county into this situation and keeps us there.

Despite facing budget deficits for a number of years, city council and the mayor still spent money frivolously in 2008: pools, Easter Egg hunts, hip-hop concert, flowers, banners, contests, etc. And we did not have a new police and fire class, despite their plans for starting such classes as the end of this year.

Now, Carty is planning on shutting down the city for a week in February. While many might not see a difference in their daily lives if the city was closed for a week, that's a problem. The work that would be performed during those five days will still need to be done and there is the inevitable clash with unions over what constitutes an 'essential function.' On the other side of the argument, if we have 'non-essential' tasks that we can go without, why do we have them in the first place?

If a department can go without a receptionist by having other staff members cover the desk and phones while doing their regular jobs, why do we even need the receptionist in the first place?

Instead of laying off a multitude of people for a week, why not actually do a complete review of all city positions and eliminate - permanently - the ones we can truly do without? Can positions or tasks be consolidated or realigned to permanently reduce the size of the government payroll? I know - that's a good question.

Toledo is also going to change its garbage collection schedule. Instead of using overtime on a Saturday 13 times a year to cover for the holidays, we'll just "LEAP" ahead a day in our garbage pickup. Other cities do this and it works well for them, so I don't have much of an issue with the plan. But if we can save millions by going this route, would we save even more by privatizing the service? What about offering it out to bid just to see how much we might save as a result of letting a private contractor do the work? If we're really looking to save money, why only save a little when we could save a lot?

The biggest problem with all the things being suggested or promoted by the city as ways to save money is that they're only little steps when what we truly need is a complete overhaul.

Such an approach would require several things: 1) the ability to recognize that a complete overhaul is exactly what is needed, 2) the ability to communicate the need and the benefits effectively to the public, 3) the strength of conviction to actually follow through with such a review and implementation and 4) the political will to stand up to opposition and make it happen.

Sadly, I don't think we have such abilities in Toledo - at least, certainly not in our current elected officials or even in the individuals who have expressed an interest in being mayor. So what we'll get, instead, is a piecemeal approach that ends up alienating just about everyone while potentially costing us more in the long run than the individual efforts purport to save.

And citizens, frustrated with the perpetual state of our city, will continue to quietly leave.

3 comments:

Tim Higgins said...

Maggie,

You are right on the money with this post (nothing new there). The problem of making a change goes far deeper perhaps than your list tells us. My list would begin with two items critical to real change in the situation in Lucas County and NW Ohio:

1. Admit that what you have been doing for the last 20 years was wrong and that change has to be made.
2. The courage to make such a review honest rather than politically motivated

Brian Schwartz said...

We should have that review of who and what is essential. However, is a guy who makes his senior staff spend six hours locked in a room while he makes sure all of the parks were mowed in any given week the guy you want doing this review?

Most of what Carty does during his day is non-essential. It's too bad because many essential functions of municipal leadership are not being fulfilled.

The A-Hole Lawyer said...

Is bankruptcy for the City the step needed to force efficiency, re-negotiation, and oversight of his honor? It was suggested as a solution for the Big 3 before bailout money was spent. Why not the corporation of Toledo.

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