November 14, 2010 in Opinion

Do more, more or less

By The Spokesman-Review
 

When Spokane Mayor Mary Verner announced that 120 city jobs would be lost without union concessions, including about 45 in the Police Department, Chief Anne Kirkpatrick commented, “We’re not going to be able to do more with less; we’re going to have to do less with less.”

This made me smile. Not that I’m happy about the cuts or the loss in service. That, of course, is bad. It’s that she didn’t robotically utter the cliché that sets workers’ eyes to rolling: “We’re going to do more with less.”

This is always false. Think of the ramifications if it were true. It means that up to the day of layoffs, management deliberately hired and retained more people than it needed at the expense of greater production. It’s certainly possible such a company or agency could do more with less with those kinds of leaders, but not if they’re retained.

Sorry if I’m trampling on hallowed management-by-mantra ground, but no amount of “re-imagining” or “re-featuring” is going to produce more with less. It’s beguiling to think so. Just as it’s fun to think that the magician really did find that quarter behind your ear. But the inference is actually insulting: “Now that we’ve dumped 25 percent of the work force, we can finally change this place.”

No, you could’ve done that all along, so stop implying it was the fault of the newly unemployed.

Kirkpatrick has a talent for being piercingly plain-spoken. She sure nailed it this time. We need to know the honest ramifications of budget cuts. If we’re told they will yield even greater service, guess what? We’ll want to do it again.

Insufficient fundS. Speaking of insulting, I hope you caught Shawn Vestal’s column on Wednesday about the police officer who fired off an e-mail explaining how he earned his raise and why the Spokane Police Guild would not be surrendering raises as part of an effort to limit the number of citywide layoffs. The officer noted that it was a dangerous job and that he must fend off many “mentals and drunks.” In short, he listed his job description in a way that made me wonder why he doesn’t just quit.

This isn’t about whether raises are deserved. It’s about having insufficient funds to cover them. It’s about maintaining a greater level of service if everyone sacrifices. The city’s taxpayers have been quite generous with public employee pay over the years, but they’ve taken a shellacking from the Great Recession. The unions can dig in, but it will mean that many police officers will be out of work. Is that what they deserve?

I’ve been in this situation, so I understand the frustration. But let’s hope cooler heads prevail.

Tough all over. In “tax and spend” King County, voters rejected a sales tax increase designed to maintain criminal justice service and replace a decrepit youth services center. That has to make Spokane County commissioners a bit nervous (OK, they’re already fretting) about putting a bond issue on the ballot for a new jail.

In fact, we all ought to be concerned, because look at what King County budget negotiators came up with in lieu of new revenue. More than 300 jobs would be eliminated. Money for prosecutors, probation supervisors, sheriff’s deputies and some public health programs would be slashed.

Some King County jobs were saved, because employee unions agreed to concessions. However, that is not the case with the King County Police Officers Guild, which insists on getting the 5 percent raise it negotiated. As a result, the sheriff is faced with losing 40 vacant positions and laying off 28 deputies.

The department will do less with less, but the remaining deputies will be paid more. Sounds familiar.

For his next trick … After finishing a draft of this column, I jumped into my car and headed home. And wouldn’t you know it – National Public Radio was airing a piece on the U.S. House Republicans’ desire to trim the federal work force and possibly its pay.

U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, hopes to head up the committee that would take on this issue. After telling NPR why it needed to be done, he said, “We’re going to have to figure out how to do more with less.”

Just shoot me.

Look, it’s one thing for a management drone to say this, but a conservative riding a shrink-the-government wave? He wants government to do less, yet he couldn’t resist the allure of this illusion.

Smart Bombs, written by Associate Editor Gary Crooks, appears Sundays. Crooks can be reached at (509) 459-5026 or garyc@spokesman.com.


There are four comments on this story. Click here to view comments >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email