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Wednesday, July 14,2010

Council sharing the pain

by Kyle Melinn

Lansing city officials asked more than 500 non-emergency city employees to take 26 unpaid furlough days in the new fiscal year as a way to balance an outof-whack city budget. It’s a pay cut of 10 percent of these employees.


As it turns out, the Lansing’s elected leaders are following suit.


Councilman Brian Jeffries suggested every member of the Council also take a 10 percent lump off their $20,000-a-year stipend to show solidarity with their fellow city employee.


Every member is doing so, even though the move is completely voluntary.


Some Council members filed paper work with the city’s Human Resources Department to get the 10 percent deducted directly from their paychecks. Others will cut periodic checks throughout the year.


"If we’re truly committed to doing the right thing, I think nobody is above approach. And if the Council is supportive of the workers here, we, too, should make the hit," said City Councilman Derrick Quinney. "Do we feel the pain? Sure we do, but until we get through this rough period we all have to feel the pain —the Council, the workers, the administration. That’s just where we are."


Apparently, the last holdout on the Council was Jessica Yorko, who initially gave me a "no comment" when I asked if she was onboard with the voluntary giveback. But she called back the next day, apologized for not being immediately forthright and said, "of course" she was giving back 10 percent.


She, too, said it was the right thing to do in that city leadership shouldn’t expect city workers to swallow a 10 percent cut if its elected leaders aren’t willing to do the same thing.


Remember, the prior City Council gave back a portion of pay in recognition of the sacrifices it was asking its city employees to make. Also, Council members, starting this year, receive no health benefits.


Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope said he gave back at the end of 2009 and plans to do the same again.


Randy Hannan, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero’s deputy chief of staff, said Bernero "has led the way" in making personal financial sacrifices to help resolve the city’s budget process."


First, he asked the Elected Officers Compensation Commission to cut his $107,000-a-year pay 5 percent the next two years, which is equal to $5,370 a year. He’s also increased his health insurance premium share from 5 to 10 percent, which equals another $750 a year.


Plus, he gave back his city-paid car, Hannan said. Based on the IRS reimbursement rate of 50 cents a mile and his relatively heavy use of the vehicle (around 20,000 miles a year), that adds up to another $10,000.


In the end, Hannan has Bernero giving up voluntarily $16,120 a year, or 15 percent of his base pay. Add this to the $8,000-plus the eight members are giving up and the few thousand bucks Swope is giving back and maybe it pays for half of a city police officer’s salary.


It’s not much money, but symbolically, Bernero, Swope and the City Council have no choice but to share in the cuts.


Clean campaign pledges soiled


Only a week after I stroked the nine candidates in the Eaton County-based 71st state House District for signing a "clean campaign pledge," a candidate has informed me that a whisper campaign and an accompanying e-mail is being circulated that points to a pair of bankruptcies recently filed by Republican candidates Britt Slocum and Laurie Raines.


Neither of the remaining Republican candidates would own up to the smear job. Cheryl Krapf Haddock told me she was one of the two Republicans present at the official signing of the clean campaign pledge and she’s sticking to its words.


Former Charlotte Mayor Deb Shaughnessy also told me "absolutely not" when asked if she’s behind the information. She said she’s got enough on her plate knocking on doors every free minute of the day and doesn’t have time to get into such stuff.


Nonetheless, Slocum and Raines are hot.


Slocum, the owner of three Jersey Giant franchises, said he’s not immune from the tough economic times and proud that he was able to keep his employees on the job and their families fed as he struggled to pay off the debt. Outside of some credit cards, Slocum said he’s happy to report that he’s paid off those he owed money to.


Raines said she filed for bankruptcy "under duress" at the advice of her attorney after she was threatened with an $80,000 suit for blowing the whistle on what she saw as "serious Homeland Security Grant violations" she uncovered while working in an government oversight role.


Is using these bankruptcies during the campaign debating "the issues" or is it personal attacks? Either way, this "clean campaign" pledge is looking a little dusty.


Tea Partying in Ingham County


Don’t look now, but there’s a competitive and interesting Republican primary breaking out in the 67th state House District, which is made up of south Lansing, Holt, Mason and rural Ingham County.


Farmer Jeff Oesterle, 59, the president of the Ingham County Farm Bureau, is seen as the "establishment candidate" and likely winner to take on Rep. Barb Byrum, D-Onondaga, but a pair of Tea Party candidates are keeping it interesting.


Jeff Hall, a 40-year-old pastor and Air Force veteran, is getting assistance from Tea Party activist Joan Fabiano and reportedly is getting some traction, particularly in his home universe of Holt.


Meanwhile, Tricia Opper, a 36-year-old self employed businesswoman, is reportedly hitting the doors hard and also espouses Tea Party credentials.


Both Hall and Opper filled out questionnaires being circulated by the "Mobile Action Patriot Strikeforce," and both received high marks for their answers. Opper got a perfect "10" on five of her 12 answers and Hall got a perfect 10 on nine of his.


(Kyle Melinn is the editor of the MIRS Newsletter. Melinn@lansingcitypulse.com).

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