Citizens For A Better Norwood

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Performance Audit exhorts, "Thou shalt not negotiate with family members."

A couple of years ago, some Norwood residents stood in wonder at Mayor Williams’ former position that, despite his having immediate family members in two of the bargaining units, he would do the negotiating, as Norwood mayors are called upon to do. During his campaign, he stressed his prior negotiating experience was an asset for this particular job requirement. Under ordinary circumstances, he would have been right; but his were no ordinary circumstances.

Since then, Mayor Williams has changed his mind - we think of it as a "righteous flip-flop" - and took some serious advice from the performance audit. Months ago, after fiscal watch was declared by the Auditor of State, he got council to approve hiring a professional negotiator for the 3 contracts that were up 12/31/05. We can see why. Here is one of the most strongly-worded, leave-no-doubt-about-it passages we’ve come across in the audit:

In no case should any party participate in informal or formal discussions or collective bargaining negotiations with any group in which an immediate relative is a member and could benefit from the outcome of those activities. (p. 3-23)

It’s a bad thing former Mayor Vic Schneider’s same request for a negotiator was refused, but let’s get at that by taking a short stroll down memory lane to a time when Norwood’s elected were just a little ethically challenged on this issue.

Back in pre-fiscal watch 2003, when Mr. Schneider was Mayor of Norwood and facing collective bargaining with the firepersons’ union, his sibling served on the very union committee he would be negotiating with. Ouch! Sibling Schneider was not just a rank and file union member awaiting the outcome of the bargaining - he was there to do battle with brother Mayor Schneider for the best possible deal for the union . Double ouch!!

And so, then Mayor Schneider asked council members for a professional negotiator to relieve him of this obvious conflict of interest. As this bit of Norwood lore goes, then Councilperson Williams, apparently not seeing the conflict, was one of the biggest opponents to Mayor Schneider’s appeal. Then, too, that pre-fiscal-watch council said there wasn’t money to pay a negotiator. What a shame Brigid Kelly wasn’t serving then to lecture them, as she did Mr. Schneider recently for his opposition to funding the new budget director position, that sometimes the city "has to spend money in order to make money." (Ah, now there’s some rich irony for Mr. Schneider as well as the rest of us.) And that may be just what’s about to happen: word on the street is the new negotiator is a pretty tough cookie, and there just might be some money saved on the city side of the ledger when the new public works, AFSCME, and police contracts are finally rolled out.

Of course, that was then, and this is now. The good news is the lights seem to be going on at City Hall regarding conflicts of interest and the appearances thereof. Even the Era of Nepotism may be coming to a close when the new employee policy and procedures manual makes it to
council floor for a vote (see 9/2/06 blog below). We can hardly wait, can you?