When the going gets tough | Bleader

Friday, June 26, 2009

When the going gets tough

Posted By on 06.26.09 at 08:16 PM

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Desperate times call for desperate measures. The city is facing a $300 million budget gap, more layoffs, pay reductions, and service cuts are on the way, and aldermen are acting funny.

Among the items on today’s meeting of the City Council finance committee was a measure that would require about 3,700 nonunionized city workers to take a total of 15 unpaid days off by the end of the year. City budget officials said that would save up to $14 million. They also said that if they can’t come to an agreement with labor leaders they’ll slash 1,500 unionized jobs in the next few weeks to save millions more.

The aldermen had been briefed about all this before, but they were exasperated all over again when they heard it anew.

Longtime administration loyalists Ray Suarez and Richard Mell suggested it might be time for a cutback in public safety staffing—something that's usually considered a political no-no. “I thought the pain was going to be shared by all city workers,” Suarez griped.

“If you want, you can introduce a resolution urging layoffs of police and fire,” snapped committee chairman Ed Burke.

“I know police and fire are sacrosanct, but these are dire times,” Mell said. “When I see cement mixers gone, when I see those people who are out in our communities daily and they’re going to be gone—the ramifications of what we’re doing are a lot more than what we’re seeing right now.”

The recently indicted Ike Carothers has long overseen a west-side patronage army, but no one’s feeling too safe these days. He wondered what the exact process was for determining which employees would be laid off. “How were they picked?”

“It’s all based on seniority,” said chief financial officer Gene Saffold.

Carothers appeared skeptical. “I’ve been hearing from people saying, ‘Why did I get laid off before he did when I’ve worked here longer?’” He asked for paperwork detailing the layoff process. 

"We've already told you some of that in briefings," Saffold reminded him. 

"I'd like copies, please."

Perhaps no one sounded as out-of-form as 47th Ward alderman Eugene Schulter, who’s generally adroit at keeping himself from being caught in anything resembling a public debate. This time he asked Saffold and the other budget officials for documents he’d requested showing how pension plans might be affected by the cuts. They didn’t have them but promised they’d get them to him soon.

Schulter’s face flushed with anger. “How do you expect us to vote on this today if we haven’t seen the stuff ahead of time?”

No one had a good answer, but the meeting went on. A little while later the committee voted unanimously to approve the furlough plan.

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