DOUG ROSS: Politicians don't belong in contract negotiations

2012-06-12T00:00:00Z DOUG ROSS: Politicians don't belong in contract negotiationsBy Doug Ross doug.ross@nwi.com, (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 nwitimes.com

When the Portage City Council voted last week to inject council members into labor contract negotiations, it was a gutsy move. It was also misguided.

The City Council seems headed in the same direction as the Porter County Council, unsure of whether to be the fiscal body or the administrative body. In Portage's case, the mayor is supposed to be the CEO. In county government, the commissioners hold that role.

Council member Matt Scheuer pushed through the ordinance requiring council presence at collective bargaining meetings between the city and city employees' labor unions. Also, because of council member Elizabeth Modesto's amendment, the council must approve all employee contracts.

I don't believe this was thought through very well.

Mayor James Snyder ran for office last year with the support of the city's labor unions. What made city employees support him? One good guess would be that when former Mayor Olga Velazquez got personally involved in contract negotiations, she burned too many bridges.

It's easy to see how telling the employees no, repeatedly, would sour their support of a re-election campaign.

The council should stay away from the bargaining table. Snyder should steer clear as well. No politicians should be involved in union negotiations, and no savvy politician would want to risk incurring the public sector employees' wrath in this fashion.

"If we go into a room divided, we'll get torn apart," Snyder told me last week.

I could see that happening, too, with the power struggle between the mayor and the council playing out not just at council meetings but also in contract negotiations.

Elected officials should keep informed of the progress of the talks, but let the department heads and, if necessary, other designated representatives for the city handle these delicate negotiations. Avoid the political backlash of getting involved, and empower the department heads to run their operations.

Snyder said he plans to veto this ordinance. He's right to do so. This is micromanagement on the council's part, and it's a tremendous political risk as well.

Let Snyder kill off this ordinance, and don't try to override the veto.

Editorial Page Editor Doug Ross can be reached at (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 or Doug.Ross@nwi.com. Follow him on Twitter @nwi_DougRoss. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.

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