November 10, 2010 in City

Tense exchanges reveal city’s budget stress

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Call it the e-mail thread heard round the city.

As Spokane wrestled with its sad but necessary budget-cutting in recent weeks, a series of e-mail messages – forwarded to all city employees – has laid out some of the stark lines of tension in three easy pieces:

1 – An angry, self-righteous police officer brusquely informing Council President Joe Shogan that he “deserves” his raise;

2 – A justifiably irritable Shogan blasting back;

3 – And, finally, a voice of reason from a municipal probation clerk who, unlike the cop or the councilman, is almost certain to lose her job.

“We all deserve our pay raises,” wrote Earline Huckins. “However, if it means that come January 1, 2011, I, and all of my fellow city employees, still get to come back to work, then take away any potential pay raise that might be considered for me until this economy turns around.”

Unfortunately, none of the city’s unions see it that way. Instead, the police, firefighters and other city unions are insisting on keeping the 4 percent raises they negotiated last year – and letting scores of their brothers and sisters lose their jobs.

You’d hate to be a junior dues-paying member of the union these days, knowing your entire livelihood is being swapped out for a raise that’s well over twice the average for state and local government workers this year.

But hey – it’s not like the Police Guild isn’t doing anything for the city. You might have noticed all the nice billboards around town. You know, the ones that say a well-staffed police force is important. Important, yes. But not as important as those raises.

But that’s background. Today’s story starts back on Sept. 28, shortly after the latest bad budget news was announced to city employees: Unions would be asked to give up raises and take on more health care costs, or face layoffs.

Tom Stanton, a police veteran of more than 26 years, fired off a message to Shogan that opened, “Hey Joe.”

“Have you ever had a crazy man throw a hatchet at your head?? I have!! Have you ever fought or been assaulted by mentals and drunks? I have!! Have you ever arrested armed subjects?? I have!! … Do fire personnel run into gunfights or disorderly people calls?? No, they don’t. They stand off and wait for us to arrive so we can secure the scene. Yet, we run into smoke-filled buildings to save people. All of the above situations are just some of the reasons why we deserve our pay raises … ”

Shogan responded 21 minutes later, sending his answer to all city e-mail accounts:

“I am a Vietnam Combat Vet. I have been shot at, and I have been attacked by mortars being ‘walked’ on top of me (have you?) and I have been shelled by artillery (have you?), I have dealt with IEDs and even tripped one that didn’t blow (have you?) … If you haven’t, then you have really overstepped your bounds.”

OK, so it’s all kind of beside the point. And I took a big verbal swing at Shogan earlier this year for treating citizens impolitely at council meetings.

But in this case the Shogan style seemed just right.

Huckins, though, was not amused. A 37-year-old mom with a 1-year-old baby and a mother with health problems, she has been notified that she’ll be laid off from her job as a municipal probation clerk. A member of Local 270, she’s been on the job for almost four years.

When Huckins got Shogan’s e-mail, she stewed about it for a while before responding. I’ll simply quote from her message here, because there’s no improving on it.

“I have been sitting here reading these e-mails and am astounded at the level of egotism wafting from them …

“I am a citizen of this wonderful city and I love my job AND, like the vast majority of my fellow employees from every department, I have obligations. I am a new mother, have a house payment, student loan payments, an elderly mother with medical issues and many other life situations. None of those things change the fact that there is a budget shortfall and that somewhere something has to give. …

“Officer Stanton, I especially want to comment on your statements about the fire department. There is never a time when it should be acceptable for such a blatant attack on another department. … Do you have any idea how despairing it is to know that there is such an intense dislike openly displayed between the two departments charged with our well-being? …

“In closing I would like to say that I have never served in a war. I have never been shot at or dealt with IEDs. However, I am the great-granddaughter, granddaughter, daughter, niece and cousin of men and women who have done those things and who are currently doing those things. … Perhaps you should both consider the contributions that every city employee makes before placing yourselves above the rest of us.”

Yeah. What she said.

Huckins was flooded with messages and calls of support. She says she received just one e-mail that wasn’t supportive.

From the Police Guild.

Which took the time to point out – to a soon-to-be laid-off fellow city worker – that they would not be giving up their raises.

Spokane City Hall E-mail Exchange

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or shawnv@spokesman.com.


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