Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Moral Obligations and Ethical Execution

That's a heavy title, isn't it? I played around with some other titles but this one seems to sum it up.

This post is a continuation of the topic from Tuesday, which dealt with the ongoing furloughs in the city staff and the consequent reduction in salaries. These sacrifices are real and necessary, and should not be done lightly.

We ask a lot of our civic employees. As easy as it is to find examples of bureaucrats obstructing citizen's desires, in general we demand a higher level of responsiveness and expect the employees to both serve the citizen individually while ensuring that the laws are upheld and fairly applied. Pay ranges for government employees are almost always somewhat lower than an equivalent private sector position and the deal the government enters into is to provide more security and better benefits in exchange for the lower pay and job restrictions. The military does the same.

This has been true in the United States since the mid-20th century. Before that, in many municipalities, government pay was shockingly low and the employee was expected to make up the difference through his own initiative. In many US cities, the difference between the police force and the mob was a uniform and this continues in many underdeveloped countries. The US made the decision across all levels of governments slowly throughout the 1930's through the 1950's that these practices were not just a moral wrong but a practical failure and the philosophy changed.

If we take for example the police, we expect a lot more from the police than most other positions demand. The major requirement is that the police respond quickly, wisely and well to emergencies and crises, using just the right amount of imposed authority to resolve the situation. In direct contradiction to this, the truth about police work is that most of the time, it's boring. It's staying in a state of readiness while managing routine work. This causes stress and the high rate of health issues among public safety workers are well documented.

The police need their health care. These people have planned their financial lives around an agreement to be paid and insured at certain rates and now we are changing the deal. This might be inevitable, scratch that, it is inevitable, but it shouldn't be done cavalierly.

The public wants a police force, and for that matter all municipal employees, concentrating on the job at hand, not on how they are going to pay the medical bills or avoid foreclosure. We need to ask carefully and respond gratefully for the give backs being proposed.

Public pension plans are a different matter. For years, politicians have staved off short term problems by over-promising on the long term and the Florida Retirement Systems reflects this. Combined with empty political promises, unions have negotiated highly favorable retirement packages. Now that bill is coming due.

Ethically, it's a bill we agreed to pay and there may not be much we can do about it, but the whole system needs change from top to bottom, so the problem doesn't get worse. If you think you might be around in the year 2050, have kids who will be, or young people you are fond of, now is a good time to start asking politicians at the state level, for this is a state problem, what they propose to do today so that it doesn't sink future generations. For ours, we may just have to suck it up. We agreed to the current promise and now the bill is coming due. We have the right to complain but not the right to renege.

This is a complicated matter and as citizens and stakeholders in North Bay Village, we need to be very aware that we are asking for substantial monetary contributions from our employees while simultaneously asking for their continued trust and commitment. Let's not act like this anything other than a failure on our part and add insult to injury by treating the cuts as insignificant by stating "You should be grateful to have a job." That's nasty.

Kevin Vericker
August 19, 2010

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