It’s hard to find a better example of government dysfunction

Today’s story by the AJC’s Katie Leslie, about an Atlanta City Council vote to award $2 million in extra pay to city employees (MyAJC.com subscription required), manages to touch on just about every element of dysfunction in the city’s government specifically, and many governments more broadly. Let’s go through it.

You have the retroactive awarding of money that hadn’t been promised to workers:

“The Atlanta City Council voted Monday to give nearly $2 million to employees who lost unused vacation time last year …” (emphasis added here and elsewhere)

You have the biggest plums going to those who were already well-paid:

“… members of (Mayor Kasim) Reed’s administration and a municipal court judge are poised to receive some of the biggest individual checks, with many now owed five-figure payouts for excess vacation time. City leaders note the high payouts are a function of bigger salaries.”

You have extra payments that equal or exceed what a minimum-wage worker would receive for an entire year of part-time — or, in some cases, full-time — work ($7,540 and $15,080 respectively, based on 52 weeks):

“According to documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a sample of employees who will now be paid for lost vacation time reveals that Municipal Court Judge Crystal Gaines will be paid $21,500 for lost vacation, Chief Financial Officer Jim Beard will receive $12,000 and Reed’s Chief of Staff Candace Byrd will receive roughly $10,500. Andrea Boone, head of the Office of Constituent Services, will earn nearly $15,000. And City Attorney Cathy Hampton will be paid more than $8,000.”

You have an arbitrary deadline forcing the Council’s hand before the proposal could be fully vetted:

“A handful of councilmembers asked for more time to review the legislation, but District 10 Councilman C.T. Martin — who sponsored the payout legislation — said it was important to pass it now so that those employees could receive checks by Christmas.”

You have the money being spent outside the budget, from money set aside for hard times:

“The money will be paid from the city’s reserve funds.”

You have an action that doubles down on a questionable action in the past that remains controversial:

“The decision to allow payouts comes months after news broke that Reed’s administration paid a select number of employees thousands for unused sick, vacation and compensatory time in so-called hardship payments. Among them, Atlanta Police Chief George Turner, the city’s top earner at $241,000 a year, was paid nearly $80,000 for unused leave in 2013.

“Martin said his legislation seeks to address employee concerns over fairness. Many employees had never heard of the hardship program under which Turner and others were paid.”

You have this action being taken even though it stands to exacerbate, not alleviate, the previous controversy, potentially setting up a larger financial problem in the future:

“Detractors on the council said the payouts don’t fix the original concerns. And some councilmembers said it will encourage employees to not use their vacation in hopes they, too, will receive payments for that time.”

You have the Council rejecting a cost-saving measure:

“(Post 2 At-Large Councilwoman Mary) Norwood suggested capping the amount employees can receive, a move that (District 11 Councilwoman Keisha Lance) Bottoms also pursued with a proposed amendment to Martin’s measure. That effort was unsuccessful.

You have the Council treating a symptom rather than the disease:

“(District 8 Councilwoman Yolanda) Adrean said the council should consider a larger issue: why employees aren’t taking the time given to them.”

You have the likely creation of another financial liability that hasn’t been quantified:

“… it’s unknown how the payouts … will affect pension payments to employees who retired this year and lost vacation time in 2013.”

You have the Council acting now, even though an attempt to address the issue more broadly is still in progress:

“(District 6 Councilman Alex) Wan called for a comprehensive strategy in addressing salary concerns. Earlier this summer, Martin and the council formed a technical advisory committee to study the issue. That committee hasn’t yet completed its work.”

You have friction between management and a union representative for rank-and-file workers:

“Ken Allen, president of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers Local 623, has mixed feelings about Martin’s legislation. He points out that it benefits both exempt and nonexempt workers who have different reporting requirements regarding vacation.

“‘I’m not against it because there are employees benefiting from it,’ he said. ‘But I feel there are a lot of executive employees benefiting from this who are probably undeserving.'”

You have, also in that last quote, a reference to the fact people in management don’t punch a time clock the way hourly workers do — and thus the possibility that their vacation usage wasn’t tracked closely enough to justify paying them for some days now.

And finally, of course, you have the Council doing something for public employees whose pay is funded by taxpayers who, in many if not most cases, don’t get the same benefit in question.

Atlanta has made some strides in fiscal policy in recent years, but this is a sobering reminder of just how quickly and easily our elected officials can fall off the wagon again.

Reader Comments 0

41 comments
straker
straker

Starik  


If a majority of voters are white, should the majority of city workers be white?

Starik
Starik

@straker Unless race is a bona-fide qualification it should be ignored. When hiring in Atlanta, Fulton, DeKalb, anywhere the best person should be hired, not the best available black person.


Could a competent white person run a majority black school system? Or a police force in a majority black city? Obviously, and there are more qualified white candidates to choose from. Politics won't permit it.

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

Establishing immigration policy by dictatorial fiat, is another example of government dysfunction or gruberism.

Starik
Starik

The truth of the matter is that there's a cultural divide here.  A majority of black folks, Democrats, feel that government employees perform an honorable, useful, essential function and should be well paid with good benefits.  When black folks run the government government employees do well - it's a consequence of political control.  There's also an expectation that where a majority of the voters are black, a majority of the employees should be black.  This is the way the world works.

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

@Starik Works so great in Detroit, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Newark, and the District of Columbia, all controlled by black Democrats for generations.

Starik
Starik

@RafeHollister @Starik I didn't say it works. I said it exists. It can only work where you have quality government policy and employees who earn their salaries and benefits. Where government in black-run cities fails is that it has followed hiring and retention policies based on race, not competence. 


When you pay well you can recruit and retain good people, but not if you are primarily interested in recruiting black folks. 

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

1%ers in Atlanta's city government?

Who knew?

schnirt

RantNRave
RantNRave


BREAKING NEWS............


ObamaCare premiums in Ga. ‘SOAR’ … by 3 percent


MichaelHannigan
MichaelHannigan

@RantNRave

Now, smarta$$, let's see how much the "DEDUCTIBLES" have risen?  Reports on TV indicate an average of 47% nationwide is the norm.  What good is it to have health Insurance (note I didn't say health CARE) if your deductible is going to ruin you financially.  Or, perhaps you don't realize the cause and effect theory - it takes X dollars to run any company - for profits, to make it worthwhile.  If the price of one company's commodity or commodities goes down, guess what? the price for others go UP,  Really not that hard to understand.  Even with the bin Obama Administration shoring up premium expense for citizens, thereby ensuring the HealthCare Companies make some profit, it doesn't seem to be enough, ergo the steep rise in deductibles.

northgagop
northgagop

Most private sector companies have gone to a use it or lose it vacation policy.  Some may let you carry a small amount of time over from one year to another, but only for one year.

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

Not having a use it or lose it vacation policy indicates the likelihood of even more severe dysfunction in Atlanta city government.

And, it won't be anytime at all where some critical need will arise and the talk will be how the so-called wealthy individuals and businesses aren't paying enough taxes.

Or, will it all wait until the antiquated sewage and storm water systems give up the ghost?

Oops, I lost my head for a moment.  When that happens the city will turn to the Feds begging for help.  After all, Atlanta did not build it! 

MichaelHannigan
MichaelHannigan

@JohnnyReb

JohnnyReb -


"...how the so-called wealthy individuals and businesses aren't paying enough taxes."


Next time you hear liberal demokrats spout that, ask them to answer one question" What "are enough taxes" that the wealthy (and they should also define that) should be paying?" 

In other words, what is the confiscatory amount of taxes the "wealthy" should be paying, either by a percentage of their ill-gotten (yes, you'll hear that, too) wealth, or  a simple dollar amount.  

Then look quickly for the fastest disappearing act in history as they vanish.

CommonSenseisntCommon
CommonSenseisntCommon

I think it should be capped at say 80 hours. If someone had vacation planned at the end of the year but something happened to cause them not to be able to take it (work emergency) then they should be paid for it the next year if they didn't get a chance to take it. 


Working in gov't is no fun and working short staffed is horrible. Each case should be viewed differently.

JackClemens
JackClemens

Excellent points. Throwing taxpayer money at  a "problem" without knowing its cause, or having a plan for fixing it longterm is pretty sorry management.

MichaelHannigan
MichaelHannigan

@JackClemens

In my opinion, it ("throwing taxpayer money...") doesn't even define management in any form - sorry or otherwise.

Penses
Penses

Another good column, Kyle. Why anyone would implicitly trust "gubmint" is beyond me.

RantNRave
RantNRave

"Watch them try to gruber us up."


WHINEY


GRUBER HAS ALREADY GRUBERED YOU CONS.


HE SAID "I RATHER HAVE OBAMACARE THAN NOT HAVE IT."



GRUBER GIVETH.....................................GRUBER TAKETH AWAY


hahahaahaahahahahahahaha

MHSmith
MHSmith

Refusing to build the Keystone pipeline: Now there is some real government dysfunction Kyle. 

IReportYouWhine
IReportYouWhine

And it's a majority democrats, imagine that.


Watch them try to gruber us up.

Yes_Jesus_Can
Yes_Jesus_Can

As a Catholic, some of my fellow congregants are leftists.  They would, I think, point out the good of someone earning more money. 

I would respond that this isn't money they EARNED.  It was given them out of breech in the trust of the public, where expenditures are to have a purpose.  it wasn't in their contracts with the City. 

I would also point out how stingy most Catholic Churches are--there are some very rich ones to be sure however--most requiring important positions vital to the functioning of the parish to be "volunteer" even as the volunteers are required to keep giving until it hurts. 

I would have just as much problem with my pastor "voting" a pay raise for his paid friends, especially if said raise were not needed or even requested.  Our Church, like our City has many things remaining to do, which would benefit from 2 million bucks besides gifts to our union political supporters. 

dcdcdc
dcdcdc

Once again, so thankful to live in a city where our politicians don't view access to the  "voter's money" as some God given right to get rich off the backs of the governed.  Of course, there's a reason they don't...because we wouldn't vote them into office if they did.  BTW, I obviously don't like in the city of Atlanta.


But the voters in Atlanta....well, you get what you vote for.  Reminds me of all the good upper middle class lib voters in the Druid Hills cluster....now, how's that charter school working for you?  Oh...you mean the pols that you supported turned around and screwed you on that too?


Seems like a pattern.....

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

What is it about fiscal responsibility and restraint that so puzzles Democrats and progressives? 

HeadleyLamar
HeadleyLamar

@RafeHollister Cobb County much ?


Enjoy paying for that foot bridge to nowhere. I can hear Liberty Media laughing from Colorado. 

Tiberius-Constitutionus
Tiberius-Constitutionus

@RafeHollister Modern-day conservatives have been a bastion of fiscal responsibility and restraint.  So much so, it has taken Democratic presidents to balance the budget and repair the economic damage caused by cons.

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

@HeadleyLamar Cobb suffers with progressive's pretending to be Republicans or RINO's in leadership positions, IMO.  They should be voted out of office and may yet be.

MichaelHannigan
MichaelHannigan

@Tiberius-Constitutionus @RafeHollister

Obviously, you are no doubt trying to point to His Slickness, Willy with a Wonker Clinton. Nice try Emperor, but His Slickness DID NOT balance the budget while in office; he signed the balanced budget worked out by a Republican-controlled House and a Republican-controlled Senate.  Go back to reading your latest copy of "Boy's World."

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

I agree with you, Kyle.  Instead, take BACK the money inappropriately awarded earlier to those higher ups. Take it out of their pay, or sue in court to get it.  There is NO SENSE in this!

Garden Gnome
Garden Gnome

I have no words for the disgust I have because of this graft, this waste and gift of public money. It's corruption, and it's wrong. 

They don't view public money as a gift. They view it as entitled, and not enough of it. I can't help think that this wasn't planned in advance, a way to get a nice Christmas bonus with taxpayer money. I find the term hardship amusing. If they said it was for the employees children it might be more palatable for some. They're too greedy to care about the distrust this causes between government and citizen. But I guess some folks can justify anything as long as it benefits them.

Yes_Jesus_Can
Yes_Jesus_Can

There can be no retroactive agreement to literally throw-away the public's money like this. 

Either you honor your agreement with your employees or you don't.  If the City actually had owed this money to its employees, then agreements should have said so. 

Because this was VOTED, we can infer that it was NOT in contracts already. 

I work with some City employees already, and I can tell you they are well-paid. 

This is an awful thing to do--with all the needs people say they have, all the homelssness, not a five-minute walk from City Hall, this is absolutely disgraceful.  I have no words for the disgust I have because of this graft, this waste and gift of public money.  It's corruption, and it's wrong. 

MichaelHannigan
MichaelHannigan

@Yes_Jesus_Can

YJC:  If I were you, I'd go after those who are forcing the city workers affected that are not well paid to work for the City of Atlanta.  Imagine the temerity...forcing innocent people to work for a city (or a private company like, say, McDonald's) to work for them!  Shameful!  Shameful, INDEED!

Yes_Jesus_Can
Yes_Jesus_Can

Many thanks Kyle.

One of the appropriate roles of conservative opinion is to review and moderate discussions that no one is paying attention to because it does not explicitly help Barack obama. 

Any retroactive payment such as this should be seen as corruption, end of story. 

straker
straker

In the many years I worked for various corporations, I seldom used all my vacation time and almost never took any sick days.  Taking any vacation time meant, upon returning to work, a large backlog of tasks since no one ever did my work while I was gone. Additionally, I was expected to get caught up in a single day back at work. Failure to do this resulted in HARSH criticism. 


Because of this, you can imagine how reading Kyle's essay today makes me feel. 

Garden Gnome
Garden Gnome

The decision to allow payouts comes months after news broke that Reed’s administration paid a select number of employees thousands for unused sick, vacation and compensatory time in so-called hardship payments.

I think that usually a hardsip would cause you to miss work so you would be granted extra days off, usually unpaid. Working through your vacation, you get compensated for those days (unless you're on salary  and a workaholic. Getting paid again for not using them is unheard of.

MichaelHannigan
MichaelHannigan

@Garden Gnome

In my company (that is, until I sold it and retired), I had an explicit rule:  Any unused vacation not taken during a calendar year - up to and including 10 days (i.e., 2 weeks) will be paid to the employee.  All accrued vacation OVER that amount (e.g., 1 day to 3 additional weeks) will be lost.  My employees were also keenly aware of the fact that their workmates had to fill in and keep the vacationing employee's workload up-to-date.  I got no complaints nor did I ever hear any grumbling. After 5 years with the company they did not have to pay a penny for their or their family's health Care insurance. My employees earned above the going rate for salaries and my turnover rate hovered around 6-8% annually (+/-).

This is not for a pat on the back, but I viewed my employees - those that I had invested heavily in - as assets to be protected.  Today, companies seem to have gotten away from looking at employees as valuable assets and that's one reason why the employment situation is America is negatively skewed.



LogicalDude
LogicalDude

"surely it should decide to do that going forward, not retroactively.


This is exactly true.  Any decision should not be retroactive.  It should be prepared for and money put into the budget.  I had a previous company that would pay out vacation days, but up to a limit.  Another company had a policy of "use it or lose it", and you could not carry any vacation hours over to the next year. 


The question should be: What policy does the city of Atlanta want to use going forward?  The council should discuss it with the mayor and a decision should be made.  Current policy should stay until that decision is made.  The quest to push this through "before Christmas" is definitely fishy. 

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

I think the best policy is to pay out vacation time at the end of the year, or allow accumulation of vacation time up to either 40 or 80 hours, then cap it. 


Now, if people are taking vacations as salaried employees, but not recording it that way, then things can get fishy. 


The payout to the police chief is definitely fishy already, and the council really needs time to review and discuss the options for city workers.   Pushing something like this through with little to no council review creates another fishy situation. 



MichaelHannigan
MichaelHannigan

@LogicalDude

"Now, if people are taking vacations as salaried employees, but not recording it that way, then things can get fishy."

Really?  Sorta fishy like a fish on the beach, in the sun for about a week? 

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@LogicalDude This isn't sour grapes on my part, but ... I have worked for three large companies in my career. I've never worked for one that paid employees for unused vacation each year. I don't think I know anyone else who works for such a company, either. So I don't think paying for unused vacation is something the city should do, either. But if -- if -- it is going to do that, surely it should decide to do that going forward, not retroactively. What will the Council do now to appease those who complain that they would've saved some days if they'd known they would be paid for them?