Union contract approval a mess
June 13, 2017
We attended the June 1 Douglas County Board of County Commissioners meeting to learn more about the proposed county employee five- and seven-year labor agreements on the agenda, totaling nearly $43 million. Scheduled almost last on the agenda, commissioners addressed these items at about 10 p.m., which served to discourage public attendance and input.
It turned out that the county's new chief financial officer's budget numbers were wildly overstated due to a spreadsheet error by factor of more than 3 times. The revised total was just under $14 million. Revised figures had to be rushed to the commissioners just before the start of the meeting. In addition, the CFO's last-minute figures were also riddled with misleading information, for example excluding any compensation expense for the sheriffs in years 6 and 7 of their contracts and projecting a 2.5 percent annual revenue increase for all seven years when the first year general fund budgeted increase in revenues for 2017-2018 is 0.8 percent. Nobody answered the citizen who asked if the projected expenses include PERS, which is an additional 25 to 45 percent of these numbers. Strangely, neither is any increase in non-personnel expense due to 2 percent inflation.
Then we learned that contract wording supplied to the unionized employees for ratification mistakenly gave them a minimum 2 percent cost of living increase for the odd years instead of a flat 2 percent. Determined to bring these doubly flawed contracts to a vote, the Commissioners chair got the employee union president to agree that on the following day, Friday, he would sign a memorandum of understanding, that would re-word the incorrect language.
Commissioner Dave Nelson objected to this saying it would not cure the defective language that had already been ratified by the union members, and suggested the Commissioners postpone their vote until the contracts could be reworded accurately, without contradictions, and then approved in an orderly manner.
During public comment we echoed Commissioner Nelson's objection against knowingly approving faulty language and dollar amounts that could put the taxpayers on the hook for higher costs with only the promise that the contract would be put right later on. We also stated that a CFO who got her revenue and expense amounts wrong by a factor of more than three times, when with one glance she, the interim county manager, or anyone else, could have seen her numbers were off; we questioned her fitness for office.
We asked the commissioners not to approve contracts based on faulty revenue and expense projections that were shot through with a patchwork of amateurish last-minute revisions.
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I'm sorry to report that the Commissioners approved the contracts 4-1, Commissioner Nelson a "no" vote, at about 10:30 p.m.
For the record, we had previously objected publicly to the Commissioners when the current CFO was promoted from within the department. The county was supposed to consider applications from outsiders, but one highly qualified applicant we were personally aware of got a "Dear Jane" email, but no interview.
We hope the "promote from within" chorus on the Commissioners now sees that selecting the very best applicants for senior department heads is more important than rewarding the next person in line. We also feel strongly that our interim county manager may have had a hand in advancing a candidate that would suit his own purposes.
It was almost to be expected: The gang that couldn't shoot straight was unable to complete the next day MOU process that was supposed to fix their mess. Now this item will have to come back before the next Commissioners meeting on Thursday to address this botched-up muddle. Will the county employees have to re-ratify the new and improved contract, a time-consuming process that was cited as the reason for the hurry-up vote in the first place? We would hope that staff members in both the finance department and district attorney's office who failed to adequately review the contracts and supporting financial information be held accountable.
We feel that Douglas County public employees have a particularly good deal. They have outsized job protections that simply don't exist in the private sector, they do not contribute to the cost of their benefits (health insurance and retirement), and they live in the most desirable county in Nevada. Douglas County voters have no union representation. They depend on the Commissioners to be their advocates.
Public employees who unionize have chosen to enter into an adversarial relationship with the voters they presume to serve. The Commissioners's highest and only duty is to advocate for the citizens and no one else. It's past time for the Commissioners to commission a complete top-down occupational audit of county jobs, particularly those most highly compensated. It's also unfair to the taxpayers that the negotiators representing the taxpayers get a cut of the increases they negotiate.
We were very unhappy to see about 20 on-duty deputies in full uniform, arriving in police vehicles, filing into the commission chambers just prior to the sheriff's compensation budget item was to be heard. No other county employees left their posts en masse while still on the taxpayers' nickel to attend the commission meeting. Nor was it necessary; Undersheriff Paul Howell was present and could have radioed or texted them with the Commissioners vote results. The only reason for this display of armed force was to send a message to the commissioners that they had better vote the right way.
For the citizens of Douglas County who put their trust in the institutions of government that are supposed to serve them, June 1 was not a good day.
Lynn and Jan Muzzy are residents of Minden.