A story on our front page this week gives new details of a half-baked effort in village hall to tie the salaries of two employees to health care premiums. It is clear that secretive efforts, poor record keeping and an unexplainable aversion to uniformity have created an entirely avoidable mess. How the village council responds to this now public fiasco is the next important step.
Before we wade any further into this issue, it is important to recognize that the two employees whose names have been dragged into this deserve no blame. Police Chief Jim Ryan is an at-will employee who smartly negotiated for a higher salary in lieu of medical insurance coverage at the time he was hired. Village Clerk Vanessa Moritz has a strong reputation for due diligence and did what any employee would reasonably do – she asked for a pay increase.
The mistakes in these cases were made entirely on the village’s side of the negotiating table. If the chief and the village clerk deserve a higher salary, so be it. But why on earth would the village tie that salary to health insurance premiums? Without a policy that outlines the circumstances under which this might even be considered appropriate, Forest Park was destined to run smack into the problems it now faces.
In a July 15 editorial, this newspaper focused its criticism on Mayor Anthony Calderone’s unwillingness to have any frank discussions about changes to the employee handbook. It was within the confusion he helped create that this page too hastily tried to lay the blame entirely at his feet. Though there are still conflicting accounts as to who knew what and when, there is no doubt that Commissioner Rory Hoskins made a serious mistake in his negotiations with the clerk.
It was Hoskins who approved the revised salary structure sought by the clerk. The move smacks of the egotism he demonstrated early this year when he published an ad for the village administrator’s position without input from the other elected officials. There also appears to be a lack of paperwork documenting the changes he made.
In addition to a much needed discussion on policy, Hoskins’ brashness should undoubtedly push council members to once again debate the extent of their administrative authority. Yes, the commission form of government remains an ever-present theme whenever elected officials start thinking for themselves. This particular case is unique, however. For months and months, council members have been pushed by staff and by one of their own to institute a policy on the subject of exchanging benefits for cash. For no good reason that we’ve been told, that discussion has been delayed until it could no longer be ignored. The mayor writes the council’s agenda, and though he may have only recently learned of Hoskins’ stunt with the clerk’s salary, he has been warned repeatedly of what could happen when there are no guidelines in place.
And when the council does finally sit down to vote on a policy that regulates whether employees can opt out of their benefits for a salary increase, the vote should be nay.