To the Editor:
About three years ago, when I was the union president of the Middletown Managers & Professionals Association, someone called to inform me that the city of Middletown was getting ready to privatize the sanitation district trash and recycling collections performed by employees of the public works department.
This was the first time anyone I knew had heard this news. It would have affected MMPA members, so I began to investigate and ask some questions of the finance department.
The finance department informed me that the sanitation division was $250,000 in the red, and it was only going to get worse. When asked how long the deficit had been going on, the finance department could only say they were just made aware of the situation.
Upon further investigation, I was told that a local private trash collection company was ready to sign a contract with the city and take over the sanitation division's collection routes. Employees would then be either transferred or laid off from work. I set up a meeting with the finance director to look into the matter, to find out how this could have happened.
When the meeting took place, I was told it was a false alarm! Someone had made some accounting errors, and not only was there $500,000 in the fund balance, but the division also had plenty of funding in the capitol account for the purchase of new trash and recycling trucks for the next five years. That’s a $750,000 mistake. No contract to privatize was signed.
Why am I bringing this up now? I’ll tell you why. On Jan. 22, at the monthly Personnel Review Commission meeting, the public works director was requesting to have the Teamsters Local 671 manager position in the sanitation division changed to add truck driving route duties, and eliminate the truck driver who now performs the work.
Tony Lepore, business agent for Teamsters, Local 671, objected to the change. When the assistant superintendent of sanitation job was created, the intent of the driving duties listed in the job description were strictly for supervisory purposes (a pickup truck), as had always been the case with all the past supervisors who held this position in one form or another. The position manages employees, complaints, problems, and the district.
The public works director stated he was performing his due diligence in looking to save money in the sanitation division, because the division is having financial problems, and it could not handle the increase in wages to fill a vacancy. At one point, the director stated if he knew the existing job description contained driving duties in it, he would have had the retiring assistant superintendent of sanitation drive a trash route all along.
Mayor Daniel Drew was in attendance at the meeting, and he concurred with the director. They needed to save money or pass the increase onto the sanitation district taxpayers. The director also stated if the Teamsters did not agree with the proposed language change in job duties, he would have to inform sanitation users that an increase was coming and it was due to the Teamsters. Mayor Drew nodded in agreement with the statement. Is that a responsible action by local leaders?
Teamsters Business Agent Lepore began to speak regarding the issue, when for no reason the mayor laughed at him. Lepore called the mayor on it, and didn’t let him get away with it. A lively one-way discussion ensued. The mayor's behavior only leads me to believe he probably did behave improperly at the last PRC meeting to Commissioner Deborah Kleckowski.
The mayor called for a recess to meet with his new city attorney and the deputy city attorney. They came back in the room and the mayor withdrew the assistant superintendent of sanitation job description change from the agenda.
He stated the existing language gives him the authority to order the employee to do the work, and he did not care about what the intent was regarding driving duties for the job when it was originally approved. Both the Teamsters and AFSCME labor organizations stated they will file charges.
You could tell the mayor and public works director had practiced their testimony together. Statements that stood out at the meeting to me; the director stating he did not know what duties were entailed within a job description in his own department. This is the most basic knowledge any supervisor/manager needs to know. The statement made by the director that the sanitation division could not absorb the increase in their salary account to hire a vacant driver position is not correct.
First of all, both the assistant superintendent of sanitation and the truck driver position are 100-percent funded with the existing budget. There was no additional cost to the sanitation district taxpayers, the money is already there.
Secondly, because of my past experience with the sanitation divisions accounting practices, I later checked with the finance department, and the sanitation division is in great financial shape, and has been for the past few years.
“And Justice For All” is a newsletter involving the opinions, views, and commentary as a lifelong Middletown resident. In my capacity as a former employee of Middletown (retired) for more than 41 years, I have a different perspective regarding how and why public figures do what they do.