During a radio show this morning, Mayor Chris Beutler acknowledged that he and his cabinet and aides still get a very generous retirement benefit but said “eventually” those will be adjusted.
Eventually? Beutler first went public with his plan to reduce city employees’ retirement benefits in July 2009. Last year he got all but one city union to agree to reduce the match for new hires (from a 2-to-1 match to a 1.3-to-1 match). All the while, he and his cabinet have continued to take an even more generous deal.
According to data from the city, Beutler and his aides and department heads get about 12 percent of their salary in retirement compensation annually. And I’ve recently learned they get the city contribution whether they contribute a match or not. So that’s a better deal than any city employee gets. They get about 12 percent of their salary (most of the directors’ have six-figure salaries) and don’t have to match it to get it.
But now that Winterized has publicized the fact that Beutler never reduced his own retirement match, even while lobbying city employees to do so, he’s acting as though he’d always intended to change it.
“We need to follow through and adjust all of the pension ratios eventually,” he said on Jack & John today. “We haven’t gotten to some narrow categories but that process will come down to everybody in the end. We’ve been working with the broad categories, the big things… .”
So we are to believe that even though he has had since July 2009 to adjust the benefit for himself and his cabinet and aides, he just hasn’t gotten around to it? Wouldn’t a better approach have been to announce that he wanted to reduce retirement matches for city employees, and he would be the one to go first?
The radio host asked Beutler whether he couldn’t have just unilaterally made that change, and Beutler said he didn’t know.
“But we will get there,” he said. “It’s coming.”
Don’t believe me? Hear it here.
Mayor Chris Beutler announced yesterday that he and his cabinet and aides will take a one-half percent pay cut in the next budget, to “send the right message” to their fellow employees and the community.
That’s a great start. But Beutler could go farther. For the past several years, he has railed against the city’s overly generous retirement program for civilian employees — where the city kicks in about $2 for every $1 the employee contributes toward retirement, up to 12 percent of their salary. The generous match caused controversy during the recession, when many private companies reduced or eliminated such matches.
“That generosity is inhibiting Lincolnites’ willingness to invest in our future,” Beutler said at a press conference in 2009. “They’re asking why our tax dollars are financing retirements that they themselves can’t.”
In the end, he was unable to get the unions to go along with reducing the match for existing employees, but most unions agreed to reduce the match for new hires to a more palatable 1.3-to-1.
Beutler even chastised the one holdout union for essentially being so selfish in fighting to keep the 2-to-1 match. However, I recently learned that Beutler and his cabinet still get the “overly generous” 2-to-1 match. Beutler gets about $8,712 per year in retirement compensation — that’s more than Gov. Dave Heineman gets, even though he earns about $30,000 more per year than Beutler.
I think that sends the wrong message to Beutler’s fellow city employees and the public, and if he really wants to set an example for them, he should donate the excess retirement to charity. Just a thought.
During his closing comment at the LIBA mayoral debate Tuesday, Mayor Chris Beutler mentioned that Lincoln’s crime rate has dropped 21 percent since he took office.
That stat surprised me — I just hadn’t heard that before. So I contacted the police chief to get more specifics — was he talking overall crime, violent crime, property crime?
Chief Tom Casady said Beutler was referring to the FBI’s so-called “part one offenses” — the most commonly reported crime data nationwide: murder, forcible rape, aggravated assault, robbery, burglary, auto theft and larceny. Those are the ones I’d be most interested in.
You can see the specific data in the police department’s annual reports, right here.
And the FBI annual report of national crime statistics is available here.
Click here to see Casady’s chart of Crime Statistics.
Now that the snowflakes have stopped falling, it seems like a good time to assess how the city of Lincoln did at pushing it all out of the way.
It’s too bad we can’t just leave all the snow where it falls; it always looks so much prettier before all those brown wheel tracks and footprints show up. But we can’t: We have places to go, things to do.
And the efficiency with which a city gets the white stuff out of the way is more important than you might think. A Chicago mayor lost his re-election bid in 1979 when the city botched its snow removal after a string of storms.
Even the god-like New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has faced an avalanche of criticism for the city’s failure to stay on top of a Christmas snowstorm. For some, it was reminiscent of 1969, when New York’s mayor lost the Republican nomination after another botched snow job, but went on to win re-election anyway.
In Omaha, they’re analyzing how the city’s performance during the last storm could affect Mayor Jim Suttle’s recall election.
They’re right: Nothing gets people riled up like snow-clogged roads and potholes. Remember the pothole problem last winter? In recent weeks (before the snow hit) I noticed a lot of asphalt being laid down — you don’t suppose that’s a pre-emptive strike to avoid another Potholegate before the spring municipal election, do you?
People expect city government to do a few basic things: Keep them safe, put out fires, keep the streets from falling apart and get the dang snow off the streets ASAP.
Personally, I think Lincoln waits too long before sending out the plows, particularly on the residential streets. It’s city policy not to send plows into residential areas unless 4 inches of snow falls. Well, by the time 4 inches falls, the snow is compacted and then it becomes an ice rink that’s going to stick around until it gets warm enough for the sun to melt it again.
I think the mayor needs to rethink this policy. You may have noticed schools weren’t in session yesterday; Superintendent Steve Joel told me he based his decision on the fact that
“we had many reports of streets that had not yet been plowed” and the forecast for blowing snow and bitter cold.
Deja vu, anyone? Last year there were several snow days simply because the streets were impassable. Seems to me the city’s snow removal program is cutting into the amount of time kids spend in school.
In Omaha, Suttle has seen the light and during this past storm, he ordered plows into residential areas right away, and the city is getting high marks for its work now.
Will it cost more money? Yep.
Will it cut down on complaints to city hall? Yep.
Will it be worth it to Beutler? That’s his call.
I was surprised to read that our fearless leader, Mayor Chris Beutler, allowed the city attorney’s office to sue six developers for not putting in streets, sidewalks and all the accoutrements that go along with a new subdivision.
After all, Beutler has spent much of the past four years kissing up to developers, to the point where he sometimes seems more like a Republican than a Democrat. From handing out TIF like it’s candy to freezing impact fees to spending millions to build a new space for permitting and planning at city hall, Beutler has worked hard to reverse Lincoln’s reputation for being anti-business. He even tried, but failed, to create a local housing stimulus program of his own.
It seems to have worked, in that nobody appears ready to challenge Beutler for his job this spring. The Democrats are just so excited to have an elected official in place that they probably wouldn’t care if he did everything but change the D behind his name to an R. And the Republicans don’t have much they can complain about, since Beutler usually behaves like one of them on development issues.
But now comes word that the city is suing developers for not doing what they said they were going to do. They probably should be held accountable, even though these are tough times for developers.
Still, just a few months before the election, it seems like a risky move. Then again, Beutler also approved a fire contract that gives firefighters up to 10 percent raises, in a final gift, just in case he doesn’t get re-elected, perhaps. He’s behaving like a man who’s not too worried about winning.
Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle faces a recall election next month; Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler is expected to win re-election in the spring. The World-Herald reporter, Robynn Tysver, analyzes why Suttle is struggling and Beutler is not.
Seems to me it comes down to the fact that Suttle is paying for some bad decisions by former mayors — but at least he’s dealing with them, even if that means tax increases are necessary. Meanwhile Beutler has not really solved Lincoln’s budget problems either, but somehow every year he seems to find a pot of money or slip in a telecom tax, with the help of four supportive Democrats on the City Council. And the city closes a budget gap for one more year.
But the real problem — the structurally imbalanced municipal budget — persists. Even a hint of controversy or grassroots opposition to a proposal (cutting meter readers, closing pools, raising property taxes) and he backs off. Beutler isn’t tone-deaf, as Tysver describes Suttle, but he is overly sensitive to criticism.
Personally, I think Suttle deserves credit for making tough decisions, at his own peril. If he survives the recall, Omaha will be closer to dealing with its budget problems. I prefer politicians who don’t make decisions with an eye toward the next election, but with a willingness to do what needs to be done, even if that means they won’t be re-elected.
Beutler brags about how much he does to tap into the public’s opinion, and yes, he does do those annual surveys to ask people to make budget choices. They’re expensive, but it’s a worthy effort. However, as for seeking public opinion in town hall meetings, Beutler isn’t so good at that. Some of the attendees at his budget roundtables were hand-picked, and basically city officials give their side of the budget story for a day, and by the end the attendees are putty in Beutler’s hand.
During the arena campaign, the Journal Star and other entities tried to get city officials to do town hall meetings on the arena debate, but the Beutler administration flat refused to offer up city employees to do any. Why? They wouldn’t be able to control the situation — people might get out of hand or too critical. So yes, Beutler does check the pulse of the public — up to a point.
So let’s say I still worked for the paper and I got a 3 percent raise this week, and then another 3 percent in February.
After nearly dying of shock — given the fact that they haven’t given raises out for years — I would call my husband and say, “Guess what? I’m getting a 4.5 percent raise!”
Of course not. I’d say, “Honey! I’m getting a 6 percent raise! I haven’t gotten that kind of raise since that one promotion back in 1993!”
Not in Rick Hoppe’s world. The mayor’s chief of staff characterizes it this way: Since the second 3 percent won’t come until February, about halfway through the fiscal year, really it’s only a 4.5 percent raise.
At least that’s how he’s selling the firefighters labor agreement that goes to the City Council for public hearing Monday. They’d get a 3 percent raise retroactive to August (because they’ve been working without a contract since then, as negotiations dragged on) and another 3 percent in February.
That’s a 6 percent raise this fiscal year any way you cut it. When the next fiscal year rolls around, everybody’s salaries will be 6 percent higher. Period.
But leave it to the spin doctor, Hoppe, to teach us this New Math. Not content to adjust 6 percent down to 4.5 percent, he also points out that since firefighters didn’t get a raise last year, really it’s more like a 2.25 percent raise over the two-year period.
Believe me, the firefighters didn’t take a 0 percent raise last year for nothing. They got something, and it’s called minimum staffing. That’s a guarantee that the city will always have at least 76 firefighters on duty. They’d been fighting for that for a long time, and they finally got it. Critics say it’s really about giving them more job security in an era when firefighters respond to more medical emergencies than actual fires.
Is anybody buying Hoppe’s math? Here’s the lede in the Journal Star today: “Lincoln firefighters are getting a 2.3 percent raise, or a 4.5 percent raise, or a 6 percent raise, depending on who’s doing the math.”
Here’s who’s doing that math: Hoppe, Hoppe, and the rest of the world.
Mayor Chris Beutler’s administration has agreed to whopping 6 percent raises for the firefighters in a deal that soon will go before the Lincoln City Council for approval.
The firefighters’ union has agreed to a sweet deal where firefighters would get a 3 percent raise that’s retroactive to Aug. 19, plus another 3 percent Feb. 17.
Although it’s true the firefighters got no cost-of-living raises last year, they did get a coveted minimum staffing provision in exchange, in what critics say is a nationwide firefighter move to secure their jobs and boost their numbers.
These are much better raises than all the other city employees received — their raises ranged from 1 to 2 percent in what was viewed as a sacrifice for the good of the cash-strapped city. (One union, however, hasn’t finished negotiations because it’s appealing to a state arbitration board over retirement benefits.)
Dave Engler, head of the firefighters union, said he doesn’t consider it a 6 percent raise, since they won’t get the second 3 percent until halfway through the fiscal year. That, combined with the fact that firefighters didn’t get a COLA raise last year, “equals 2.25 percent (raises) for the last two years.”
But in an era where many employees aren’t getting raises at all — at the Journal Star, employees have gone without raises for nearly three years — the 3+3 raise looks pretty good.
The proposed labor agreement also changes the longevity bonus from a fixed amount to a percentage of salary, which is another plum for firefighters. For example, right now an employee with 25 years of service gets a flat $2,069 bonus for longevity, but under the new deal, they would get 7 percent of their salary. That could amount to a much bigger bonus for sticking around so long.
There are also changes to the section on minimum staffing (remember the controversy over that new provision about a year ago?) that appear to more clearly define which types of employees count toward the minimum number who must be on duty 24/7.
Another new section gives firefighters an automatic $3.29 per hour raise if they move into a 40-hour-a-week job in administration, training or maintenance.
I’m anxious to hear what the firefighters did to deserve such big raises — aside from contribute more money to Beutler and the Democrats on the council than any other entity in Lincoln. I’m also anxious to hear where the money to pay for this contract will come from, given that the municipal budget only penciled in about 2 percent raises across-the-board.