Monday, March 11, 2013


Updated at 8:24 a.m.

Matt Rink of The Repository wrote a well-rounded article on the retire/rehire debacle in Canton city government yesterday (Ex-Canton workers want job back).

However, one matter Rink did not touch upon is:  Who is looking out for the Canton/Stark County taxpayers' interests on retire/rehire transactions?

It is clear to the Stark County Political Report in interpreting the article:
  • that the Canton government leadership has been and continues to do a CYA operation on implementation of the retire/rehire, and
  • that many of the fired workers believe that they were bamboozled by that leadership and feel that is only fair that they gets their jobs back
What is equally clear to The Report is that in the legal squabbles, historical and current, that nobody has been specifically designated to look out for the Canton/Stark County taxpayers.

In a divorce case, one of the classic ways that alienated spouses utilize to continue their personal war against one another is to fight over who gets custody of the children.

It is apparent to onlookers that in many, if not most, instances mom and dad care little about the interests of the kids.  Rather the fight is about her/his ego in terms of who is one up on the other.

Some decades ago it dawned on family court officials that in the jousting between spouses, the childrens' interests oft times were going unprovided for.   In response, the  courts have developed a highly successful guardian-ad-litem program to specifically look after their particular interests.

In an analogous way, government management and the employees look after their own respective interests and the public be hanged.

The SCPR thinks it is high time that a mechanism (i.e. guardian-vox-populi - "guardian for the voice of the people") which is the equivalent of the guardian-ad-litem program should be devised and implemented any time a retire/rehire is in the works with "appointed" employees be they city workers, school district superintendents or county sheriff chief deputies.

For the SCPR has seen that all too many times that boards of education, city/village/township administrations and their like sell out the taxpayers' interests for the interests of hiring authorities coalesced with retires/rehires in a win-win for the employer/employee at the expense of the taxpaying public.

The Report thinks that management and/or board members frequently, over the long term of employment,  get into sweetheart relationships with key employees which sets up a situation that "taxpayers in mind bargaining" does not take place in rehiring a retiring employee.

For instance Tyler Converse, the head of the Canton Water Department is quoted as saying:   “We were losing close friends and coworkers who brought a lot of experience.”

And in the Canton situation many of the rehires were union workers who as a matter of contract were entitled to a certain wage.

How does one bargain in the taxpayer interest in such a labor/management context?

In future contracts, doesn't language need to be added to provide for wage re-opener negotiations on the possibility that a retire/rehire class employee will retained on a lesser wage/benefit package?  Shouldn't a vox populi guardian be part of the base-level contract negotiations to ensure the re-opener?  Or, alternatively, shouldn't the State of Ohio mandate such language be in all contracts going forward?

As implied by Converse in his remarks, The Report believes that in some instances it is in the interest of the taxpayers' that certain employees (i.e. irreplaceably experienced) who have retired be rehired.  But at a significantly lesser scale/rate than is being currently utilized and not without substantial salary/wage concessions on the part of the rehire.

But the exception should be used sparingly.

Room for new employees needs to be a top priority.  

In the Canton situation, the sins against the taxpaying public were, as Rink put it, that:
Employees had begun collecting their pensions, effectively retiring, without the consent of their appointing authority. They had not had a break in service, were still being paid the same wage and were receiving the same level of vacation and other benefits. (emphasis added)
As far as the SCPR is concerned, the only Canton retire/rehire that had any semblance of what the process should be in terms of paying heed to taxpayers' interests had to do with the retirement/rehire of Canton law department employee Craig Chessler.  Again, from Rink:
Another employee, Craig Chessler, an assistant city law director and long-time Perry Township trustee, was rehired by Martuccio last year, but took a 20 percent pay cut. Chessler is not a civil service employee and did not have to be rehired the same way.  (emphasis added)
Even that was way too good of a deal for Chessler in the opinion of yours truly.

The standard for retire/rehire properly done and incorporating, perhaps, the public taxpaying interests would be no less than a 40% pay cut, no additional pension contributions and no benefits but perhaps the very lowest level of vacation and sick pay benefits.

Only in a situation where the employee is a "critical need employee," as established by documented evidence should a retiree/rehiree be retained at the same salary and benefits as in place at the pre-retirement level.

It is obvious that, as things now stand in Ohio government employment,  hiring authorities cannot be trusted to protect the taxpayers' interests.

Accordingly, state Senator Scott Oelslager; state Representatives Hagan, Schuring, and Slesnick need to get together an push legislation providing for an institution such as Ohio's regional County Educational Service Centers to have attached to them an Office of Guardian Vox Populi to represent taxpayer interests in retire/rehire matters at the local (i.e. political subdivision) government level.

A corollary mechanism should be created for retires/rehires at the state level.

It is simply unbelievable and unacceptable that those who foot the bill for retire/rehire do not have a seat at the negotiating table, no?

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