Town Board Vote Lacks Transparency -- Again
How the Town Board granted enhanced benefits to 21 employees without full disclosure.
When it comes to open and transparent government, there's the letter of the law -- and the spirit of the law. And once again, our elected officials have chosen to abide by the former while ignoring the latter.
This time, the issue is the Town Board's vote, at 11:10pm on December 18, to grant 21 town employees additional vacation and/or other time off benefits without full public disclosure and without giving the public an opportunity to ask questions about or comment on the pending resolution.
Sometimes, what isn't said is more important than what is said.
What the public WAS told.
On December 3, in an untelevised open meeting, the Board discussed accumulated vacation days, the controversial issue at the heart of the current lawsuit between the Town and former Town Comptroller Joan Goldberg. There was also a discussion of the number of vacation days department heads should be entitled to, but there was no discussion of specific number of days. (Note: this discussion was a follow up to a November 13 closed door discussion.)
On December 18, at approximately 3:238pm, residents who subscribe to the Town Board agenda email list received a copy of the evening's agenda. The text of a proposed new benefits resolution for department heads which was attached to the agenda included:
During the Courtesy of the Floor portion of the meeting, I informed the Board that I had questions about the benefits resolution but that I would postpone asking them until the Board was ready to discuss the resolution. But I never had an opportunity to ask those questions as the discussion was moved to the very end of the meeting and AFTER Supervisor Grace unilaterally cancelled the second Courtesy of the Floor session.
After a brief discussion that touched only on a few sections of the draft resolution, the Board approved a slightly modified benefits resolution.
What the public was NEVER told.
1. That the Board was granting more generous vacation benefits to 21 employees and that depending on how those employees chose to use these benefits, the richer benefits could end up costing the Town money.
The Board never explained that the new vacation benefits schedule granted certain employees more vacation days than they were entitled to under the CSEA contract. For example, under the current CSEA contract, an employee would have to work at least 13 years to get 20 vacation days; under the new resolution, the employee would be entitled to 20 days after only one year of service. (Comparison of CSEA and new vacation benefits)
I had hoped to ask the Board about the cost implications of the added vacation days and the new buy out provision. (During the discussion, it was revealed that the Board had rejected an earlier 10 day buy out proposal because of its financial impact; the policy issue had obviously been discussed at the November 13 closed session.)
2. That the Board was granting a new, vaguely defined, benefit worth an additional five days of time off.
The December 18 resolution allows the 21 covered employees to take off an additional five days per year to attend "community events" during regular working hours without having to use their other accrued leave time (vacation, floating leave or personal leave). The only definition of a community event is: "community being (defined) for these purposes as the Town of Yorktown or Westchester County."
What exactly constitutes a "community event" that involves employees needing to take time off?
3. That the Board was expanding the number of employees entitled to enhanced benefits.
While the 1993 benefits resolution dealt exclusively with department heads, the December 18 resolution covers department heads and "other managerial and professional employees holding office titles not covered by the CSEA contract." Included in the "other" category are the: confidential secretary to the Supervisor, the assistant (a.k.a. secretary) to the Highway Superintendent, the Deputy Town Clerk and the Deputy Court Clerk, a new job title that was created in 2012.
Why were these "other" support staff employees included in a resolution dealing with department heads?
Sadly, the current administration just doesn't "get it." Transparency isn't something to be tolerated and danced around; it's something to be embraced. Transparency is what enables us to hold our elected officials accountable for their actions. Transparency is what gives meaning to the word democracy.