‘Bullying tactics’ will not change support

Published 8:57 pm Thursday, April 12, 2012

Charles Brown
Vice Mayor

As the Vice Mayor of the City of Suffolk I have read and heard many things since the proposed FY2012-2013 Budget was unveiled last week. While I tried to remain quiet and let the facts speak for themselves, the negative attacks and slanted information permeating through the media has made that impossible and unfair to those who have done nothing other than the monumental job they were tasked with doing.

I know education is an honorable profession. I taught for many years and have nothing but respect for those who teach our children. However, during the response to an F3 tornado, Hurricane Irene, Blizzard of 2010 and multiple nor’easters, I do not recall seeing anyone but the city manager and her employees.

Newsletter

Email newsletter signup

When negative fund balances were discovered, and Suffolk was downgraded by bond rating agencies, and the city was on the brink of financial disaster, I only saw the city manager and her employees doing the heavy lifting to turn the city around to become one of the top 100 small cities in America.

Additionally, when SPSA was on the brink of bankruptcy, I saw the city manager at the regional table assisting in the negotiations of a new financial restructuring model that saved Suffolk residents over $6 million.

In 2008, when teachers and school administrators got 5-percent raises and city employees got 3 percent, where was the Suffolk News-Herald’s cry for injustice? When the former school superintendent was paid over $170,000 a year with an additional $30,000 annual benefit package, where was the Suffolk News-Herald’s cry that his salary was too high?

The city manager is responsible for the 85,000 citizens, including 39,000 households, 14,000 students, 400 square miles of land mass and 30 square miles of waterway.

The city has closed a $17.2 million gap with no layoffs or furlough of employees and again in 2013 have recommended $3 million in new money for the schools. This was not by accident but rather the strategy of the hard working leadership and employees of the city.

It’s been reported that some employees are receiving raises while school employees are being laid off. The fact that any employees may be laid off is unfortunate, but I will submit that layoffs did not have to occur.

As early as 2007, the city recognized that the economic environment was changing and we had to change the way we did business and began implementing processes and efficiencies to close gaps.

Recognizing that we could no longer afford to replace state funding reductions imposed on local service partners such as Suffolk Public Schools, the health department, community services board and the regional jail, we advised our local service partners to develop sustainability plans to address their current and future operational needs given the prolonged economic crisis and negative economic outlook. Suffolk Public Schools never submitted such a plan to local government.

Over the last few years, the school division has relied on over $7.1 million in “one time” federal/state dollars in the form of Federal Stimulus/Education Jobs and State Hold Harmless funding to maintain its existing operational practices and even hire additional staff, furthering its expenses using short term money while also adding long-term funding requirements.

The city is not responsible for the decision to implement layoffs and furloughs. The use of “one time” funding for recurring expenses is a questionable management and budgeting practice especially in the new economic realities that we now live in.

We do value education and our educators. That is why we have proposed that $3 million of the $4.2-million increase in all new revenue is being directed to the schools.

I do recognize the importance of investing in employees. I would encourage the superintendent of schools and School Board to allocate the $3 million in additional local funding proposed in the City’s FY 13’ operating budget for use in compensating school employees and/or the development of a compensation plan to address possible salary deficiencies of school personnel.

I will not apologize for the fact that the city has fared well and even improved in this economic climate. Our bond rating is the highest it has ever been, which is a direct benefit to the taxpayer. Our real estate tax rate continues to be the second-lowest in South Hampton Roads, all while our city continues to grow and is able to maintain a safe and high quality of life for those that chose to live or work in Suffolk.

I do have to wonder if we would be reading these commentaries and attacks if the people in these positions of leadership (city manager, city attorney, city assessor and city clerk) were not women who work just as hard, have the same qualifications and more, and are not being compensated as their male counterparts.

To continue to serve as a council member, without approving this compensation plan would be unjust and plain wrong. My integrity will not be compromised by allowing any employee of the city to work without being fairly compensated.

Every job has value, regardless of who is in it and how long they have been in such position. The law dictates and my conscience requires that I support the budget and the implementation of the compensation study within it.

I plan to support the implementation of the compensation plan for our employees and leadership. I hope the other council members will not allow the bullying tactics of the Suffolk News-Herald, the Virginian-Pilot and others stop progress in our city.

Charles F. Brown is Vice Mayor of Suffolk.