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Friday, February 22, 2013

Editor Letter from the Record Journal - Miscalculated memo

As published in the Record Journal on Friday February 22, 2013

Wallingford municipal employees who could not attend a day of work because of Blizzard Nemo should not be forced into counting it as a vacation day.

Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. has requested this use of time-off from workers who stayed home when town hall was closed Feb. 11 due to snowfall. Fiscal conservatism of Dickinson has long helped Wallingford remain in solid financial shape, even during stormy economic times. Thus, in asking that staff count a day lost to Nemo as vacation, he’s at least acting with the best monetary interests of taxpayers in mind. “I have a hard time feeling the town should be paying people when they didn’t work,” Dickinson logically argued in a Feb. 14 memo (R-J, 2-16).

Problem is that this comes after the fact. Certain civic employees were told to attend work on Feb. 11 for assistance with cleanup efforts. Maybe additional individuals would have come in had they known beforehand that the alternative was a lost vacation day.

Employees in private sectors, or even other municipalities, justifiably might be unhappy if their boss requested similar sacrifice days after the storm. It’s therefore reasonable, as outlined by Local 1183 President Chuck Ballard (see his letter below), that at least one union representing Wallingford workers expects to file a grievance. “Town government offices have been closed in the past and have fulfilled their obligation to pay employees — so why is this situation any different?” Ballard persuasively writes. Especially since Dickinson’s decision is opposite some public policy in Connecticut.

In Meriden, Southington and Cheshire, municipal employees are not required to use vacation hours in order to receive wages for days when work is canceled. State staff also gets paid even if officials close Connecticut offices in extreme situations like Nemo, as was the case on Feb. 11. Comparatively, Dickinson’s request is unorthodox.

But more importantly, it seems retroactive, and based on unclear legal language. In his memo about the matter, Dickinson stated that he did “believe” that collective bargaining contracts do not require payment of wages unless an employee reports for work. Wallingford unions probably would have responded differently to this if a definite answer existed — and was widely known before Nemo — about whether it’s contractually permissible or not.

Some readers understandably may agree here with the mayor, who has made another tough decision in his decades-long tradition of holding the line on expenses. Wallingford retains sound monetary status partly because of Dickinson’s willingness to govern conservatively and, at times, unconventionally. But taking away vacation without employees knowing prior that those hours were at risk is unjust.

If Dickinson plans to continue requiring vacation time for workdays canceled amidst severe weather conditions, he must negotiate such language unambiguously into future union contracts — ensuring fair, even-handed treatment for both employees and community.

Letter to the Editor of the Record Journal - Mayor and memo

As published in the Record Journal on Friday February 22, 2013

Editor: What good is an agreement if it’s violated? More importantly, what is the ramification if either party does not adhere to the agreement issued by the State Labor Board? It all comes down to this: taxpayer dollars! The fact is that Wallingford Mayor Bill Dickinson closed town government offices on Monday, February 11, 2013. Mayor Dickinson then issued a memo declaring that all employees must use vacation time or lose pay for that Monday.

However, the binding agreement states that the town is not allowed to close town government offices and demand vacation time to be used. Furthermore, town government offices have been closed in the past and have fulfilled their obligation to pay employees — so why is this situation any different?

There will certainly be grievances filed by affected unions, which will result in a multitude of work hours being spent on the case. In addition, add the expense of the town’s labor attorney, which can be even more costly. The end result is a huge bill for taxpayers.

According to a Record-Journal news story (Saturday, February 16), the mayor stated: “I don’t want to feel like we are giving money away when it isn’t warranted.” In this instance, he is doing just that. He is wasting time and taxpayer dollars on a poor labor decision (which is not his first).

Perhaps the residents of Wallingford need to realize it’s time for a change and bring this town into the twenty first century by not wasting taxpayer dollars!

(The writer is President, Local 1183.) CHUCK BALLARD, CARMEL, NEW YORK

Economopoulos opposes quick vote on consent calendar

As published in the Record Journal on Friday February 22, 2013

By Andrew Ragali
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2224

WALLINGFORD – Town Councilor Nick Economopoulos is unhappy with how the consent agenda is used during Town Council meetings.

During the council’s last meeting, on Feb. 13, Economopoulos questioned an item on the consent agenda, which is technically against procedure.

“There is no discussion or debate either by members of the council or by the general public on consent items,” according to Town Council procedures, which were last amended in 2010.

Thirteen items were on the consent agenda last week, one of which was an appropriation of $500,000 to the Wallingford Housing Authority to cover building repairs. Economopoulos questioned Town Council Chairman Robert Parisi about the item and asked why the council was voting on a costly appropriation he knew nothing about.

“I don’t like voting yes for something when I don’t know what it is,” Economopoulos said on Thursday.

Parisi then explained that the item was brought up in past discussion, and Economopoulos reluctantly accepted the agenda along with his fellow councilors.

The consent agenda was established for council meetings between 10 and 15 years ago, Parisi said. Town Council procedures state that “the consent agenda is a separate listing from the regular agenda of a variety of items to be approved by one vote of the Town Council, rather than by specific votes on each item.”

It’s used to speed up meetings by accepting items that don’t require discussion in bulk.

“You put the ho-hum items on it, the ones that aren’t normally going to involve a lot of discussion,” Parisi said.

During last week’s meeting, Economopoulos suggested placing a monetary limit on items that can be placed on the consent agenda. On Thursday, he said “I’m against the consent agenda as it is,” explaining that cost doesn’t matter. The item could be a $6,000 tax credit, he said. If he doesn’t know what it’s about, he doesn’t like approving it.

Parisi said councilors have a chance to take items off the consent calendar, but there is a deadline. That’s why he said it is important for councilors to check the agenda immediately when they receive it on the Wednesday before the meeting.

“Some councilors haven’t made themselves aware of what the rules are,” Parisi said.

Procedures direct councilors to bring any questions on the consent agenda “up with the department head submitting the request, or the Mayor, if a satisfactory answer is not obtained.”

If more information is needed, councilors must notify the secretary of the Town Council, or the Town Clerk, by 4:30 p.m. on the Friday before the meeting.

“I have other things I have to do that are much more important” than calling town department heads to have consent items explained, Economopoulos said. Town employees have other business to take care of as well, he said, adding that if he called about all the items he isn’t sure about on the consent agenda he would be accused of micromanaging.

“A department head doesn’t want to take our calls,” he said.

Town Councilor John Le-Tourneau disagreed, and said town employees are usually very helpful.

“You really don’t get people stonewalling you,” Le-Tourneau said, adding that he has no issue with the consent agenda. “A councilor must read their backup material and understand what’s happening during the meeting.”

Economopoulos said there are too many items on a consent agenda to understand them all in detail.

“Be an adult,” Parisi said of Economopoulos. “Don’t play games with the agenda.”

Parisi said that the consent agenda’s purpose is to expedite business, not slow it down.

“These are items we should all agree on,” he said.

But Economopoulos said he often does not, and believes the consent calendar implies items are clear cut when they may not be.

“I’m against the consent calendar,” Economopoulos repeated. “There’s nobody watching out for the taxpayer.”