Most of us have had the experience at one time or another. You’ve just been hired and now you’re sitting down to figure out if you’ll sign up for the HMO plan or if the dental coverage is worth the extra bite out of your paycheck. Then there’s the employee handbook that needs to be signed, acknowledging an awareness of the dos and don’ts of your new office.
The experience of municipal employees is no different – unless they work for Forest Park.
It was revealed Monday night during a choppy back-and-forth at the village council meeting that there’s a compensation package for non-union employees that isn’t in the handbook. It isn’t yet clear who created this program, how long it’s been around and what it’s cost taxpayers. However, it was strikingly apparent that the mayor is far more interested in being evasive than he is in coming clean.
As reported on our front page this week, at least two non-union employees have been – and may still be – receiving cash payments in lieu of signing up for health benefits through the village. (We’re hard-pressed to quickly find examples of this in the private sector, but that’s a matter for another day.) In theory, if an employee is covered by a spouse’s insurance, he or she can forgo the benefits offered by Forest Park. The village then boosts their salary by a percentage of what would have been paid in benefits.
This being Forest Park, this transaction has been an off-the-record, undocumented benefit shared with a select few. Seems the employee handbook was missing a few pages.
The former village administrator said he’d drafted some policy proposals to pull this out of the backrooms and bring some uniformity to the practice. For reasons that aren’t clear, those policies weren’t presented to the council for a vote until Monday night. And even then, Calderone was in no mind to discuss why the employee handbook was being revised. Commissioner Marty Tellalian deserves credit for demanding an explanation. Calderone deserves all the criticism we can muster for playing some game with the public’s trust, and then crying foul when he’s caught.
“Certainly you’ll put a spin on the story in the paper,” Calderone said to a reporter after the meeting. “These are all just shots at me. That’s fine. I’m a big boy.”
No, mayor. You’re not a big boy. Big boys take ownership of their mistakes. Big boys are forthright. Big boys don’t make attempts to shift blame and responsibility, as Calderone did in directing the paper to talk to former administrator Mike Sturino about the inequitable insurance gambit.
Again and again, Calderone proves the dangers of concentrating power in Forest Park. More commissioners need to step it up, as Tellalian did Monday in demanding an explanation of substantive changes to the personnel manual.
And looming large is the hiring of a new village administrator. More than ever, it’s clear that Forest Park citizens need a solid and independent professional municipal manager and not another friend of Tony’s.