Largo Commission Upends City Plan to Furlough Employees in Stunning Move
by Leo Coughlin
LARGO - For a while there, it looked like City Attorney Alan Zimmet was going to be the only one on the Largo payroll to get a raise, but in a stunning move last Thursday, the City Commission upset the smug little scheme by the city administration to give raises to unions with one hand and then take them away with the other.
Commissioner Mary Black had opposed the idea from the outset, but in the first budget hearing the rest of the commission went along with the plan to breach contracts with the Police Beneficial Association and Communications Workers of America which represent city employees.
Last Thursday, the night when the final millage and budget doings were final and cast in stone, the commission heard pleas from a police officer and a union representative about how devastating the plan to furlough workers would be.
Not only that, Chief Lester Aradi, a man of principle and courage (no surprise) put his keister on the line with his opposition to the furlough scheme.
In doing so, he recognized that he "might be unwise" to take a position against the administration and its proposed budget but responsibility for what he was hired to do outweighed that consideration, he said.
This was not the first time Aradi was on record for opposing the diminution of effectiveness his department faced. He messaged the city manager, Mac Craig, who was having apoplexy Thursday night as he saw the furlough scheme go down in flames, to that effect earlier.
When crunch time came, four commissioners who had gone along with the idea reversed field and voted with Black. Mayor Pat Gerard, who had voted for the furloughs, was not at the meeting.
Black kicked off the proceedings that upended the scheme that Henry Schubert, an assistant city manager, had presented with such smug aplomb a few weeks ago.
And when she raised questions about the legalities of breaking a contract, the word came from Mary Hale, the resident lawyer for the city, that the authority came from no less than one Tom Gonzalez, a labor attorney representing the city.
Of course, this was no authority at all as Gonzalez is merely a hired gun, an advocate for the city, not an objective law interpreter. All I could really do is give the city position, not act as an authoritative arbiter.
State law, reviewed in previous articles in the Gazette, gives a city leeway if exigent circumstances dictate the harsh measure of furloughs.
But Largo is on record that it does not have a financial crisis and it is a fact known to all that the city has a bulging reserve.
And it was Commissioner Harriet Crozier, following Black and Commissioner Bob Murray, who also opposed furloughs, who zeroed in on that reserve and got Amy Davis, the city's budget expert, to admit that $1 million taken from the reserve would give the raises and obviate the necessity for furloughs.
There could not have been a bigger surprise. Both sides were hitching up their drawers getting ready for a legal tangle - probably in a federal courtroom that would have tolled the furloughs until the issue was settled.
It is fundamental law in our country that the obligation of contracts cannot be impaired. Governments, of course, have an advantage because government can always take measures to preserve itself.
But Largo was not in that kind of financial peril.
As citizen Geoff Moakley pointed out, and has pointed out, again and again, there are many ways to save money, to cut fat and unnecessaries out of the city budget.
Going into the Thursday night meeting where opposing forces had their loins well girded, it appeared that only the wily city attorney would get a raise. Not an increase in his retainer, but $10 an hour more for legal assistants. That amounts to $10,000 a year.
Craig, adopting a Cassandra-like role, and with a glowering expression warned about the grim future Largo faces by not being able to deprive police and other workers of their contract obligated raises (oh, he's doing well - more pay than the governor gets and a couple of pensions rolling in).
Forgotten, obviously, was the time honored rubric that "the day is sufficient unto itself."
City minds are out years ahead, worrying about 2015.
"Tomorrow will take care of itself," one old timer opined. "By that time we will probably have survived Mac Craig," he continued.
Return to Current Edition