In an unfortunately all too rare case of political courage and discipline, Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory and a City Council majority ignored negative headlines and stuck to their guns last week in a budget showdown with the police union.
With the city facing a $28 million deficit this year due to lower than expected tax revenues, city officials had sought to have all municipal workers take a six-day unpaid furlough to cut costs.
Although the firefighters union sat down and hammered out an alternate deal with the city, two unions — the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) and Cincinnati Organized and Dedicated Employees (CODE), representing middle managers — balked at any furloughs to save jobs.
Because of the impasse, City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. began negotiations with the FOP, seeking $2.6 million in savings from the Police Department. Otherwise, 138 people in the department would be laid off beginning Sept. 6. Mallory and a five-member council majority supported the stance.
Sensing an opportunity to scare the public and grab headlines in an election year, however, City Councilman Jeff Berding opposed the hardball tactics. Berding tried to badger Mallory and others into accepting a “no layoffs pledge” for police this year and in 2010, when the city is facing a possible $40 million deficit. Mallory and the majority said the pledge made no sense unless the FOP agreed to some concessions, adding it would undermine negotiations.
All city workers should share in the sacrifice, the majority said. Further, the proposed layoffs wouldn’t affect the number of officers assigned to neighborhood patrols, nor would they change the number deployed per district. Instead, they would come from specialized units and administrative positions.
Berding, a Democrat, was joined in the pledge by Republicans Leslie Ghiz and Chris Monzel and GOP mayoral candidate Brad Wenstrup.
Meanwhile, the FOP and CODE filed a lawsuit asking a judge to block any potential layoffs. The unions amazingly argued the city really didn’t have a deficit, despite city and state governments across the nation facing similar troubles.
On the same day last week that a judge ruled that the city has a right to layoff any employees it deemed necessary, FOP and CODE leaders agreed to a compromise. Under the deal, the FOP would agree to 4.6 furlough days or concessions totaling $1.3 million and CODE would agree to 2.5 furlough days or cuts totaling about $152,000.
Although the union rank-and-file still has to vote on the pact, it appears headed toward approval.
Score one for the mayor and the council majority consisting of Laketa Cole, David Crowley, Greg Harris, Roxanne Qualls and Cecil Thomas.
But the political fallout for Berding could get worse. Democratic Party precinct executives are scheduled to meet Sept. 12 to consider rescinding Berding’s endorsement. His supporters are trying to block the action, alleging the party’s by-laws don’t allow for endorsements to be rescinded once granted. Regardless, the local AFL-CIO yanked its endorsement for Berding and Mallory snubbed the councilman in remarks at the union’s annual Labor Day Picnic at Coney Island.
Still, Berding’s tactics garnered plenty of media exposure and swayed the “pro-police at any cost” contingent.
The mindlessly fawning attitude was best exemplified by Westwood activist Mary Kuhl in an interview on WKRC-TV (Channel 12) shortly after the compromise was brokered. Asked what she thought of the deal, Kuhl replied, “I will support whatever the police want.”
News flash: Unconditional support for any politician or public servant is always a bad idea and leads to dire consequences. Exhibit A is the blasé attitude about a rash of police shootings in the late 1990s, which prompted U.S. Justice Department oversight of Cincinnati Police for a time and several costly reforms.
Bill Moyers, the respected PBS journalist and editorialist, got it exactly right in a recent commentary on his weekly TV news program.
In a piece urging President Obama to stop trying to appease Republicans and become tougher in fighting for health care reform, Moyers mentioned a quote from The Economist magazine that called the debate over health care reform “a touch delirious.”
Moyers called that an understatement. “So here we are, wallowing in our dysfunction. Governed — if you listen to the rabble-rousers — by a black nationalist from Kenya smuggled into the United States to kill Sarah Palin’s baby.”
The bizarre claims referenced by Moyers are what pass for rational discourse, urged on by corporate media whose interests are served by sustaining the status quo.
So it’s not surprising that the local Tea Party group issued a press release overstating the impact of its own Labor Day event held in West Chester.
“The Voice of America Rally on Sept. 5 drew 18,000 attendees per Channel 5 WLWT,” its press release states. “President Obama’s AFL-CIO Speech drew an audience of 4,500 according to the same source. The Voice of America Rally drew an audience four times larger than the President of the United States of America.”
Actually, local police pegged the Tea Party’s attendance at 6,000, but let’s move on.
The release adds, “Gena Bell, leader of the Eastern Hills Community Tea Party, believes the goals of the Cincinnati and Community Tea Parties are aligned with the majority of the American people.”
At the risk of further bursting the Tea Baggers’ bubble, Obama’s speech was held at Riverbend Music Center’s PNC Pavilion. It has a seating capacity of 4,100 people and admission was ticketed and tightly controlled.
The latest item that Tea Baggers find so upsetting is that a public insurance option might be included in proposed health care reforms.
Here are incontrovertible facts: The market-driven, for-profit aspects of our system actually stifle effective health care and drives up costs. An Aug. 23 analysis in The Washington Post comparing the U.S. health care system to those in other democracies found ours at a severe disadvantage.
“It may seem to Americans that U.S.-style free enterprise — private-sector, for-profit health insurance — is naturally the most cost-effective way to pay for health care,” the article states. “But in fact, all the other payment systems are more efficient than ours.”
It continued, “The key difference is that foreign health insurance plans exist only to pay people’s medical bills, not to make a profit. The United States is the only developed country that lets insurance companies profit from basic health coverage.”
If Tea Baggers dislike a public role on principle, however, then let’s see their pet lawmakers like John Boehner and Jean Schmidt introduce a bill to abolish Medicare and Medicaid.
We’re waiting patiently.
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