Coral Gables Citizens Recognized in Pension Battles
September 1, 2010 Leave a comment
Two points are worth making.
The Teamster Union occupied roughly 90 percent of the seats in the city chambers.
Also, the proceedings were not shown on Coral Gables TV as they should have been and as they had been in similar impasse hearing (as was noted by Commissioner Cabrera). Mayor Slesnick dismissed citizens’ views from the start of the meeting by attacking an ad in the Miami Herald calling attention to the event. The city failed to broadcast the event on the halls outside of the chamber.
Thus there is a pattern in Coral Gables of avoiding public views and comments by its citizens on unpleasant topics.
The Coral Gables commission chamber can seat some five dozen observers. During a special hearing last week on the city’s pension benefits, all but a handful of those seats were occupied by bodies clad in white Teamsters T-shirts.
Among the spattering of dark business suits that refused to blend in with the white-washed wave of public-employee-union representation were those of Katherine Newman and Sandra Murado.
It wasn’t just their attire that made them conspicuous; it was the reason for their presence. They aren’t public employees or city consultants or public officials. They’re simply concerned citizens, and that’s a rare breed at the often monotonous forums that are public hearings.
“It’s hard for me to imagine why more people don’t get involved,” says Newman, an accountant and Coral Gables resident who becomes angry when she thinks about a city communications operator who retired with a $65,000-a-year pension or about how 23 cents of every dollar in the city’s budget goes to pay pensions.
Coral Gables is hardly an anomaly. Cities throughout the region are in the midst of some of the most important financial decisions they will make in years as they battle public-employee unions to tackle rapidly spiraling employee and retiree costs.
Just as the employee-compensation decisions that public officials made in the past are now bearing down on taxpayers, the decisions they now make will play a major role in determining residents’ future obligations. Yet you’d never know it by the dearth of citizen involvement — compared to employee-union presence — at many budget meetings.