Dear LiB: My First Report to Bellevue Residents, by Tom Fodi

Dear LiB:

During the campaign leading to my election as a new member of Bellevue Council, I heard a consistent theme: the residents and voters of Bellevue are sick and tired being left in the dark with regard to their local government. For that reason, I came up with a strategy that I believe might help keep the public more informed with regards to what is going on. As any employee is required to report to their employer for everything they do on the job, I committed myself to publishing a detailed explanation for every major vote cast and action taken while I serve on council, especially those that might generate something of a stir in the community. These explanations will be published on my personal blog, but will also be submitted to some of the more popular media outlets in our community for their consideration in publication.

With that having been said, I offer this Dear LiB letter as my first public explanation for the actions I took and major votes I cast on and leading up to Reorganization Day – Monday, January 4th.

President of Council: Immediately following the swearing in of all new council members, it is required by Bellevue’s Home Rule Charter that a new President of Council be elected. Leading up to the meeting, I felt woefully unprepared to vote for anyone to serve as Bellevue’s new President of Council. Not satisfied going into the meeting unprepared, I touched base with numerous members of our new council concerning who they believed would be running for the positions. As a result of those conversations, I learned that Kathy Coder was not only interested in being elected president, she was actively seeking someone to run with her as Vice President.

As a side note, more than one of the above-mentioned conversations occurred via email and in just one of those e-mails to a certain member of council I used the language, “I’ve been praying about this…” It is fascinating that I have not only heard that language spoken to me by other members of council, I have also discovered it in an editorial written by Connie Rankin in the Citizen published on Friday, January 8th (sadly it is print only, not online so I cannot link to the article). The use of that language makes no sense in context, except to make it perfectly clear to me, that while I hoped we were building bonds of trust, what I write or say to certain members of council will inevitably be shared with their friends in an attempt to work against me.

In addition to the fact that I can trust her not to share my private e-mails with the media, there are a number of reasons I chose to support Kathy Coder to be the next President of Council and worked to help her find someone to serve as her Vice President. For those of you who don’t know, Councilwoman Coder has built a career around her gift for organizational leadership/management. She has some of the best professional networking skills I’ve ever seen, enabling her to draw more regional attention to Bellevue than any other local leader I’ve ever known. Additionally, for years, Councilwoman Coder has been on of the most faithful community servants in Bellevue, voluntarily, without regard for public recognition, committing countless hours to the betterment of Bellevue through a variety of boards, committees, groups, and service projects. Bellevue would have been blessed to have her serve as President of Council but unfortunately, we weren’t able to rally a fifth vote. As a demonstration of her desire to put the community first, Coder encouraged all who were supportive of her bid for president to get behind the only other known candidate, Lynn Heffley.

For this reason, I voted in favor of Councilwoman Heffley being elected to serve as our next president. (motion passed by a unanimious decision)

Vice President: Immediately following the election of council president, Bellevue’s Home Rule Charter requires council to elect a new Vice President. For all of the reasons stated above, I proudly nominated Councilwoman Coder for the position. In addition to Mrs. Coder, Councilman Henry Lenard was nominated. While I’m sure Councilman Lenard would make an excellent vice president given the opportunity, for the reasons stated above, and due to the fact that I nominated her, I voted in favor of Councilwoman Coder to be elected as our new vice president. (motion passed with 5-4 decision)

Employee Salary Ordinance: Following the Reorganization Meeting, a short “business meeting” was called to order. During this meeting, council was asked to consider a couple of ordinances. The first ordinance under consideration was a salary ordinance for borough employees. Included in this ordinance was, reportedly, dramatic pay increases for some employees. I cannot say for certain what members of the previous council knew about the proposed salary increases as most of that was discussed in “executive session,” but I, and the other new members of council, were given no documentation or justification for these proposed salary increases. I’ve STILL not been informed who is supposed to receive said pay increases, what job the people receiving the pay increases perform, and why the pay increases are justified.

I am an adamant fiscal conservative who was elected by many voters disgusted by the fact that Bellevue has some of highest taxes in Allegheny County. Every year the budget is stretched and threats of further tax increases loom. As a matter of policy, I will always refuse to support any increases in borough spending without concrete, substantial justification. Frankly, as a newly appointed member of the Finance Committee, I have plans pursue substantial reductions in spending and corresponding tax reductions. Needless to say, I voted against the salary ordinance with its dramatic pay increases because it was presented to me with absolutely no justification. To vote in favor of the ordinance would have been a direct violation of my commitment to fiscal responsibility and prudence with taxpayer dollars.

Before I’m labeled “anti-worker” or “anti-livable wages,” I should point out that as a business owner, I know that worthwhile employees come at a cost. I’m not against paying worthwhile employees a worthwhile salary in order to remain competitive in attracting them and keeping them. That being said, and at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I STILL don’t even know which positions are slated to receive an increase in salary, let alone what justifies the sudden jump in pay. Thankfully, my colleagues on council joined me in voting the measure down 6-3 and supported paying all borough employees their 2015 pay rates until justification can be documented and properly considered. While some are labeling this matter a “failure of council to have an adequate working knowledge of its own laws” (see The Citizen editorial), in reality it’s a failure of the previous council to pass this ordinance before the legal deadline of December 31st. It’s also a failure of our borough administration and newly elected leadership to assume passage of such a bill without so much as basic job descriptions, performance reviews, and detailed justification for an immediate request of increased spending!

The other votes cast on Monday were relatively unnoteworthy. I voted in favor of maintaining the same meeting schedule employed over the past two years as it seemed to work effectively and I saw no reason to change it. I also voted in favor of adopting the new community garbage collection rates as they are determined by a third party contract and are all but forced on us.

While I look forward to working with my colleagues on council in the coming months, I am most excited to personally share with you, the residents and voters of Bellevue, what is happening in your local government. I invite you to attend council meetings or send me your thoughts, concerns, or questions. I was elected to represent and serve you, the people of Bellevue. I will not simply play along or “do as I’m told” by those elected before me. Bellevue deserves better. With your help, I intend to give it better!

Advertisements

12 Responses to “Dear LiB: My First Report to Bellevue Residents, by Tom Fodi”

  1. Thank you for this clarification and your support of transparency.

  2. I second Gretchen’s comment. Bravo, Tom. And bravo to council for not raising the wages of borough employees for 2016. There are approximately 3 million federal government employees who have not had a scheduled pay raise greater than 1 percent for the last six years. Social Security recipients received ZERO increases for 2016. And in the private sector many businesses, large and small, are significantly reducing reducing benefits while wages remain stagnant. Perhaps what Bellevue pays to it’s employees should be based on yearly federal government pay adjustments. Living wage is a nonsensical concept. Supporters of the living wage simply do not understand that labor has a value intrinsic to it. It is not the job or function or responsibility of the government to provide jobs with pay and benefits greater than people with the same skills and talents earn in the private sector.

  3. The pay and benefits ordinance only applies to the non-union employees of the borough. Two of the unions are in negotiations (the police are in arbitration). In the past there have been times that the non-union employees receive no pay increases while the unions get 2.5% and 3% increases. Is that fair or should the non-union employees form another union? While I agree that wages should be tempered with the community and economic conditions, our non-union employees should receive around the average of the going rate of their particular jobs. The large increases were proposed because the positions were underpaid. Even the new wage levels are at least $2 per hour below the average. A study was done to determine what the jobs were being paid in similar communities with similar responsibilities and educational requirements. I hope Council looks at all of the facts and treats the employees equally and fairly. Women should receive equal pay commensurate with their experience, responsibilities and trust.

    • Mayor Cusick, are you seriously suggesting that I’m sexist? After my clearly documented concern over how the wage ordinance was handled, that’s what you conclude? That’s the talking point you want to reverberate among Bellevue residents? That Tom Fodi’s expectations of documentation and justification are nothing more than a veiled attempt to limit the earning potential of women?!

      Mr Mayor, I didn’t even know one of the individuals who would receive the increase in pay was a woman! The new members of council weren’t even given the benefit of THIS information.

      We were presented with a wage ordinance, informed it included “dramatic pay increases for SOME borough employees” (not all, apparently) and told to cast a final passing vote. That’s it. No job descriptions. No performance reviews. No comparative studies. Nothing. Nothing to justify a “dramatic” increase in spending. Nothing other than instructions from our leadership to pass it and move on.

      I don’t know how former members of our council have operated, but I demand more than a wink and a nod to “get on board.” I wasn’t elected to just support whatever was presented to me by our leaders. I was elected to serve the people of Bellevue, to protect their tax dollars, and pursue accountability/transparency in government. That is precisely what I will be spending the next four years doing.

  4. Thank you, Mr. Fodi for your straightforward approach. The fact that you are laying everything out in the open is very refreshing.
    It is better to hear first hand what is going on than someone else’s subjective interpretation.
    Thank you also for seeking the Lord’s will first and foremost.
    I look forward to hearng about and having good things happening here in Bellevue.
    It is time for OUR revtalization.

    • Thank you Sharon! After years of frustration sitting in the audience at council meetings just wishing someone, anyone, would explain to me why they did what they did, I vowed I would never leave the public in the dark. This council is supposed to serve you, not rub the egos of those who won an election. The decisions made and the votes cast are done on behalf of the residents of Bellevue. Over the next four years of my term, I will write a report after every major meeting detailing what’s going on and how I choose to act in response. My prayer is that by doing this, we will eventually see more involvement, participation, and ownership among Bellevue residents for their own town’s future.

  5. Never in my life have I been given a raise or promotion before: 1.) working really hard towards making myself an asset. 2.) Having a formal review of my work, my strengths and if course, the things to work on to move forward. Government as a unit lives in thus bubble where reality isn’t considered.
    Who are these employees? What have they excelled at? What are the areas of opportunity that they need to improve on?
    This town needs to be run like a business, not like a charity.
    Now that “pawns” of council past are gone, I think this will be possible.

  6. Kathleen Krzywicki Reply January 10, 2016 at 5:55 am

    Thank you. I appreciate your comments, and wish you well in your efforts. Please don’t lose your enthusiasm.

  7. Tom, There was no insinuation of you being a sexist or that you did anything wrong. I agree with what you said. I was trying to clarify the reasoning behind the pay raises and some of the past statements of Council. I was hoping to use this forum, as you are doing, to let the readers understand why things happen. I think you are providing a great service to Bellevue. I may see things from a different prospective or feel more has to be said about a particular subject but it is only to clarify, not to attack. I will try to be objective and keep personalities out of my comments.

  8. Thank you for this candid and rational explaination. As a 25 year resident I now have hope things might actually improve. I read the Citizen article and the editorial and I was wondering why Lynne Heffley voted against Ms Coder for Vice President It seems counter productive

  9. Two of the unions are in negotiations??? Why are any of these people union? The 8000 citizens of Bellevue can’t afford union rates and benefits. I heard there were five police personnel that earned greater than $100,000 during 2015. Is this fact, Mayor?

  10. People have a right to join a union. In order to have someone to negotiate salaries, address complaints and protect an employee’s rights, a union can be very useful. There are also the downsides, such as, protecting bad employees, demanding excessive pay raises and misusing dues for political purposes. But overall, unions have benefited the worker. As for the six digit earnings, I have only heard of one officer receiving that but I haven’t checked on others. The reason it happens is that some officers do not accept overtime and others take it whenever it is available. All officers are paid the same (depending on their rank). They are restricted to no more than 16 hours per day to ensure safety of the public, themselves and other officers. Overtime is caused by unexpected call offs (i.e. sudden illness, family emergencies, etc.), court cases, departmental needs (i. e. storms, fires, etc.) and that which is reimbursed by contractors (i. e. road work, football games, etc.). The Police and the borough are in arbitration. It is up to the arbitrator to decide the final contract. The DPW is still negotiating. It is up to Council to settle this contract.
    I hope this helps. Please ask any questions you have. I can be reached here or on my email at pacusick1@verizon.net.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: