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Town Board Vote Lacks Transparency – Again

On December 18 the Town Board granted 21 employees enhanced benefits without full public disclosure, once again ignoring the spirit of open and transparent government.

Town Board Vote Lacks Transparency — Again

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 11:10 p.m. on Dec. 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 Dec. 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 Nov. 13 closed door discussion.)

On Dec. 18, at approximately 3:38pm, 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:

  • A reaffirmation of a 1993 resolution that linked department head benefits to the CSEA contract except as modified by the new resolution
  • A new vacation benefits schedule
  • A new time off benefit to attend “community events”
  • A list of non-union employees covered by the new resolution

 

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 Dec. 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 Dec. 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.

Note: A video of the Dec. 18 benefits discussion can be viewed on the Town's web site. Scroll to 11 p.m.

For more information about other Town issues, visit yorktownbettergovernment.org.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Susan Siegel December 28, 2012 at 07:03 PM
Addenda. After posting the above comment, I received an email from the Town , sent at 1:58pm, informing me that there would be a special Board meeting at 12:30pm.
Rose December 28, 2012 at 11:37 PM
Something is drastically wrong with a supervisor and town board that feel the public has no right to be in attendance at a meeting that approves large additional expenditures and benefits for employees. Why do these 21 employees need the CSEA at all when they have Grace as their benefactor. Incidentally, I received my notice of a special meeting at 2:39pm more than two hours after the meeting. Thanks for keeping me informed Mr Grace.
Evan Bray December 29, 2012 at 12:56 PM
How do you get on the town board email list and is that an official advertisement of the agenda for meetings? It does seem insane to me not to reign in these benefits that cost serious money. I think Joan Goldberg played by the rules and was owed that outrageous 74K sum. I don't see how you don't pare benefits to levels that private sector employees have; start by disallowing vacation and sick day rollovers. That's a no-brainer and it's fair. How much do town employees contribute healthcare? I bet it's less than I pay in. I'm not bitter, just think the financial future of this town would be brighter if these issues were looked at seriously --and publicly--and addressed in a meaningful way.
Evan Bray December 29, 2012 at 01:12 PM
Ha. Is that a joke? You received an email advertising a meeting that had already occurred? My question is are these actions in compliance with the Open Meetings Law?
andy December 30, 2012 at 02:07 PM
Evan, instead of wondering I asked a town employee. they pay about 25% of their Heath care which is more than most municipalities and actually more than my wife who works for a large corp. BTW she is also allowed to rollover 10 days max a year in vacation and many municipalities allow that also. As far as sick days, keep in mind they don't get NYS Disibility if they can't work unlike most people. So they rollover sick days instead.I will bet you allowing them to do that is cheaper than paying nys bidi illy ins. For them. See b4 you ask questions on line, just as an employee like I did.They don't bite and in fact are quite helpfully in many things that help run this great town

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