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Wednesday, March 17,2010

Get paid

Why such a tiff over Lansing City Council members giving back some of their pay?

by Neal McNamara

 


 


Lansing City Council President A’Lynne Robinson is fine giving back pay to show solidarity with furloughed city employees, but she would have liked more time to discuss the details.


“We could’ve put our brains together without being Jesse James-ed into demanding a decision right then,” she said. “That’s not good business.”


Robinson is referring to an attempt at last week’s Council meeting by At-Large Councilman Brian Jeffries to put a nonbinding resolution on the agenda for each Council member to give up a portion of pay equivalent to how much city employees are losing to furlough days. Each Council member would give up $699, and the higher-paid president and the vice president $722 and $768, respectively.


The Council voted 4-4 on putting Jeffries’ resolution on the agenda, which killed it. Robinson, Kathie Dunbar, Tina Houghton and Jessica Yorko voted no. Eric Hewitt, Derrick Quinney and Carol Wood joined Jeffries in supporting it.


But for Jeffries, the resolution had to come then because that’s when Council passed the administration’s deficit elimination plan, which ordered the furloughs.


“I consider these issues tie-barred,” meaning conjoined, Jeffries said. “What I find interesting about this is what’s the alternative? What else was there? We were going to do this or nothing at all.”


Jeffries’ resolution has been called grandstanding, but those who voted for it call it a show of solidarity and say that Council has discussed giving up pay since at least December after Mayor Virg Bernero announced furloughs.


At-Large Councilman Quinney requested and Council was given in early February a sheet detailing how much — at that point — each member would have to give up, including a perpay period amount, and a lump sum amount. Council also received a form from the City Attorney’s Office that allowed members to voluntarily give up a lump sum or percent of pay per-pay period until the conclusion of the fiscal year on June 30.


Jeffries said this issue will come up again because he’s heard that 15 more furlough days are expected in the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. Finance Director Jerry Ambrose would not confirm this, but said that the administration has been in talks with labor unions about furloughs.


Jeffries’ resolution began its short life on the morning of March 8. He says he called Lansing City Attorney Brig Smith to put together the resolution. Smith’s office ended up writing three separate resolutions: One to be introduced by Council, one by Jeffries, and one by the Committee of the Whole. Jeffries chose the one to be introduced by the full Council.


“I felt that everyone would want to have ownership,” he said.


That evening, a special Committee of the Whole was scheduled to discuss a new contract between the city and UAW employees. The contract was to be discussed at a CoW the week prior, but the Council did not enter into a closed session because Smith erroneously told them there were not enough votes. Jeffries had asked that the contract be brought up early in the meeting, but Robinson denied this and Jeffries left. The UAW subsequently sent a letter to the Council expressing disappointment; then Robinson, and separately Jeffries and At-Large Councilwoman Wood, set up the special CoW.


Jeffries said he arrived at City Hall around 6:30 p.m., picked up the resolution, and then asked Robinson if it could be discussed at the special CoW meeting. Robinson agreed, and Jeffries handed out his resolution at the meeting. But when the special CoW ran late — Council meetings start at 7 p.m., but discussions over the UAW contract lasted until nearly 7:30 p.m. — Robinson asked to put off discussion of the resolution until a different meeting.


“When the time got spent, I said, ‘We can do this next week,’” Robinson said. “Then Brian took off explaining, and I said,
‘Council member Jeffries, we’re not going to do that at this time.’ It
was 7:25 when he attempted to start this discussion. There was not
great debate, nothing.”


Dunbar corroborated the situation, and said that she had questions like whether Council members would have to pay all at once.


“We didn’t have anyone there that could answer questions,” Dunbar said.


Council
did have time in the special CoW meeting to vote to bring Jeffries’
resolution out from the committee — the vote was 4-4, the same as with
a later vote to place the resolution on the agenda.


“He
knew what the vote would be,” Dunbar said, referring to a larger vote
in the full Council meeting. “He was doing it for, I guess, the
spectacle of it.”


Dunbar
said that she thought Jeffries might be trying to make up for getting
“bad press” for leaving the March 1 CoW meeting before the UAW contract
could be discussed.


Not so, says Jeffries.


“I’m
not sure about all the drama, and I really don’t care about it,”
Jeffries said. “It really detracts from the whole substance, which is
sharing in the sacrifice (of city employees).”


Whatever
the immediate reaction to Jeffries’ attempted resolution two Mondays
ago, every single Council member appears to have given up his or her
share. On Monday night, First Ward Councilman Hewitt, Dunbar, Houghton
and Quinney all said that they had made arrangements to have money
deducted from their paychecks. Wood and Yorko did so last week. Jeffries
wrote out a check for a lump sum last Tuesday, and Robinson had
delivered hers personally to Ambrose on March 8 — the check was for
$798, she said, as opposed to the actual $768 because she was so unfa
miliar with the
terms of payment. Jeffries’ resolution also urged City Clerk Chris
Swope and Bernero to give up salary. Swope said that he has made
arrangements to give back $2,402 of his $72,555 salary.


Hewitt,
who voted for Jeffries’ resolution, said he could understand why some
on Council had concerns about how the pay would be deducted. But, the
resolution was not a complete surprise.


“We
knew it was coming since last year,” he said in reference to Council
giving back pay. “We first starting talking about this in November.”

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