Letter to the Editor

Your view: Looking at the facts

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Dear Editor,

Regrettably it appears the dialogue I've been having with the city government over their tax increase has shifted. It started out on accounting, it turned to a question of judgment but now it's become a matter of credibility.

I'm sorry about that. There are a number of councilmen that I've considered friends in the past, and hope to once again soon. Unfortunately though, they've accepted too much of what the staff has told them, and with this crew that confidence has been misplaced.

I've live in Sikeston now for 17 years. In that time, I have always supported providing the resources for our city government to make this community safer, more pleasant and more attractive to those who might bring good jobs here. I think I can make about as good a claim as anyone to working towards Sikeston's future. Not once in all that time, however, did I support more resources for the city so that the senior employees could help themselves to the proceeds.

Given the recent record though, all bets are off. Running huge deficits, handing out 50 percent pay raises to senior staff and 70 percent increases to pension benefits prior to asking for a tax increase breaks all residual good faith. Considering furthermore, that there still has been no credible effort to explain how $36 million will be spent, I believe there's reason enough to oppose this measure.

Clearly though, a calculation has been made. The assumption is that at some point either I will stop responding or most people will stop paying attention. They may be right on the second. I cannot answer for that. I can only answer for what I do.

To settle the point about credibility, I would like to challenge my city government to do one simple thing. The council's letter said that all employee salaries are known to the council because they are listed in the compensation ordinance. The Compensation and Staffing Level Authorization ordinance for FY 2004 is number 5547. Please post the full text of that ordinance on the city website. The voters you're asking for $36 million can then see for themselves if they can find within it the salaries of say, Doug Friend or Carroll Couch. (I'll give a dollar to anyone who can).

(Quick councilmen, see if you can find out from that, or any other, ordinance what Karen Bailey, the City Treasurer, makes in salary. Were you told when she got a pay raise?)

While we're at it, and since we were told that the City Manager's salary was set only after comparing our compensation plan with Cape, Paducah, Carbondale and Poplar Bluff, let's see the details. Why don't we collect some information about those municipalities and see how we compare. I would suggest: population, city budget, number of city employees and city manager's salary. Please post those results on the city website.

I've already got that information, but I'm sure you'll want to call yourselves. Here's a hint of what you'll find though: Cape, for instance, has twice our population, a budget five times the size of ours, and three times the number of city employees. Their city manager makes $5,000 a year less than Doug Friend.

Personally, I look forward to the day when a discussion of the public record is not considered controversial. No one who wants Sikeston to grow and prosper can find this pleasant. But nothing good can be built on a foundation of deception. So, if we have to slog our way through this process, we'd best get at it.

The city says they have an opinion from our City Attorney that they could ignore Section 78.610 RSMO of the Missouri Statutes. Please post that opinion on the internet.

The city says that, "No city employee received a pay raise this year except through promotion in position and responsibility." O.K. (and assuming that the qualifying term "this year" is not the escape clause), please tell us all what Carroll Couch's title was when he made $50,000 a year, and what he's been promoted to now that his salary's been raised to $75,000 . I thought he was City Clerk (Grade 23) then and he's City Clerk (Grade 23) still. Sounds to me like a good old fashioned pay raise.

The council's letter said, "Former councilman Josh Bill knows that efforts of previous councils put in place policies to create additional staffing and benefits to keep our service levels at a point demanded by the citizens." No I don't. Just who was it who was demanding that Doug Friend become the highest paid city manager in the region?

They went on, "The announcement by former Councilman Josh Bill that we were a "city in crisis" led to spending initiatives that had to be funded out of our reserves." Horse feathers. There were several steps proposed in that letter, following a rash of violent crimes (six armed robberies and two murders in two weeks) that took place back then. Not one of them would have cost a dime. For the most part those recommendations were to enforce our laws. The personnel were ready and in place. It was the staff leadership that was standing in the way. They still are.

It doesn't take a Masters degree in Public Administration to know that our Property Maintenance and Rental Ordinances are not being enforced. Just drive around.

Under any circumstances though, I would like to know how it is that 50 percent pay raises to the senior administrative staff and a 70percent increase in their pension plan benefits clean up neighborhoods or fight crime.

I can and will stand behind every number I've used. If others are not prepared to do the same, when they ask for an additional $36 million, then I suggest they withdraw the request and return when they've done some house-cleaning.

Lady and Gentlemen of the City Council, it is not a disqualifying event to become a former member of the city council. This city used to be run on a conservative, pay-as-you-go basis. Put it back there and draw up some plans that will benefit the people of Sikeston, and not simply the senior staff at City Hall and some Section 8 landlords, and I'll be happy to back you. Until now I always have.

Sikeston Proud and Hoping to be Prouder,

Josh Bill