Search This Blog

Monday, April 8, 2013

Snow-day pay: The issue isn’t melting away

As published in the Record Journal on Sunday April 7, 2013

By Jesse Buchanan
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2230
Twitter: @JBuchananRJ

Although it’s rare for Town Hall to close due to bad weather, the question of paying workers under those circumstances has become a contentious issue between Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. and town employee union leaders.

Dickinson said the town is under no obligation to pay workers for Feb. 11, the day Town Hall was closed due to a blizzard. To get paid, employees must use a vacation day, Dickinson said in a Feb. 14 memo.

Dickinson said he can remember closing Town Hall one other time, but couldn’t recall the year. He has been mayor for almost 30 years.

Despite the infrequency, Dickinson said he’s trying to establish a policy.

“These things do arise,” he said. “You can’t look at it as a one-time expense. It becomes a potential ongoing issue.

Town Personnel Director Terence Sullivan said he can only remember a handful of times that Town Hall has closed due to weather in the last two decades.

“It’s so infrequent you can probably count on one hand,” he said. “It’s a very infrequent occurrence.”

Based on adding the salary and overtime costs of Town Hall departments in the 2011-12 fiscal year budget, Wallingford pays more than $22,000 per day in employee compensation. The yearly salary costs were divided by the 248 workdays to estimate daily employee pay.

The salary figure didn’t include police, fire, public works and utilities, since those departments operate in all weather.

Departments at both Town Hall and 6 Fairfield Boulevard were included in the daily salary estimate.

Dickinson didn’t have an estimate of how much a day’s pay would cost Town Hall.

Jason Zandri, a Town Council Democrat running for mayor, said it’s unfair to expect town employees to use a vacation day when Dickinson closes Town Hall. Paying employees who stay home in a storm isn’t a common occurrence, Zandri said Refusing to pay employees for a snow day was “completely in character” for Dickinson, according to Zandri. He said the mayor is looking to save money by not paying employees, but risking thousands of dollars in a legal battle that the town will likely lose.

“You get to 20 hours of legal fees and you’re already halfway there,” Zandri said.

Town leaders shouldn’t be intimidated by unions threatening arbitration, according to Republican Councilor Craig Fishbein.

“Merely to run away and cower in the corner because of the arbitration process is, in my opinion, not the appropriate way to deal with these issues,” Fishbein said.

Fear of losing arbitration and incurring legal fees is often used as a reason by the council to avoid conflict with the unions, he said.

Chuck Ballard, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Co. 4, Local 1183, said the union has filed for an arbitration hearing date with the state labor board. He declined to comment on the issue and its effects on employees.

“This is definitely an ongoing process,” he said.

No date has been set for arbitration. “Typically these take awhile,” Ballard said. “If it takes less than a year, I’d be surprised.”

Wallingford’s Non-competitive edge

Editorial as published in the Record Journal Monday April 8, 2013


“I won’t stop saying ‘no’ until I’m the lowest-paid employee in the town.”

Thus quips editorial cartoonist Kevin Markowski in his caption atop this page vis-à-vis Wallingford Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr.’s decision to (yet again) forgo a salary increase. It’s a practice perpetuated since at least 2002, whereby he’s kept a steady salary of $73,140.

Markowski’s tongue-in cheek humor reflects a concern among some Wallingford residents and town officials that perpetuating a manifestly low chief executive’s salary year after year produces something of a double-edged sword: On the one hand, it gleams when sparkling in the sunlight of Dickinson’s disciplined determination to set, by way of personal example, restraints on municipal spending during what he refers to as “bad times.”

On the other metaphorical hand, it presents a blunted, non-cutting competitive edge among mayoral/manager peers in other Connecticut towns and cities. In our April 4 news story, for examples, we reported that, as of 2011, the following annual salaries were paid: Southington Town Manager Garry Brumback, $149,000; Meriden City Manager Lawrence J. Kendzior, $139,000; Michael Milone, Cheshire Town Manager, $131,350.

Though some question Dickinson’s non-progressive salary in relation to other Wallingford top municipal staff (including, say, that of the Superintendent of Schools), the overarching consideration extends to a time when this mayor is no longer office-holder, whether by his choice or future election results. To attract top quality candidates, Wallingford will necessarily have to up the ante by around $60,000 annually, give or take.

When that fullness of time naturally occurs, one hopes that the new chief executive will not be “compared” in a pejorative light of requisite salary differentials but on the merits of his or her leadership abilities.

For his part, Mayor Dickinson deserves a nod for reserve through self-denial. Taxpayers should bear in mind, however, that the above-mentioned two-edged sword will inevitably be held to the standard of competitive daylight.