Claiming that "Mad Dog is back," city Councilor Ken Cockayne today blasted the mayor for being a 'coward' who's in the pocket of the unions.
Mayor Art Ward, a Democrat, denied the charge and fired back at the freshman Republican councilor.
Ward called Cockayne’s charge “totally disgusting. He should be ashamed of himself.”
Cockayne decried Ward's decision to put so many union representatives on a new panel looking into the possibility of tapping excess pension cash to lower property taxes.
"It's absolutely ridiculous," Cockayne said. "The unions basically control the whole board. This is not a fair and balanced committee."
Ward was stunned that Cockayne would have hurled such insults, especially since the two men hadn’t spoken about the appointments.
“That’s very childish,” said Ward. He said Cockayne isn’t setting a good example for his son, or thinking about the impact the personal attacks could have on Ward and his family.
“It’s uncalled for,” said Ward. “He needs to grow up. Get a lasso and rope some maturity, park his little pony.”
Nine of the 19 members of the new GASB 45 Committee are union representatives and some of the others are friendly to the unions.
"When I looked at the list, I almost fell off my chair," Cockayne said.
Cockayne said the pro-union leaning of the panel is "another example of Ward pandering to the people who got him elected."
Cockayne also took a shot at Ward for failing to put himself on the panel.
"Removing himself from the issue is just cowardly," Cockayne said.
He said the mayor ought to be the panel's chairman so he would have a stake in its decision.
Though he was in the office almost all day Thursday, Ward said, Cockayne didn’t approach him with his concerns.
“I guess maturity is very elusive for some, or fleeting if he ever had it,” said Ward. “I can’t believe this kid. He’s never called me. He’s never asked me about it. He shoots from the lip. He needs to think about putting his brain in gear.”
Ward was surprised that Cockayne referred to himself as “Mad Dog.”
“They shoot mad dogs,” said Ward. “I think he needs a tetanus shot.”
Ward said his wife’s 26-year employment with the Bristol Board of Education – and membership in an employee’s union – could pose a conflict if he served on the board, which is why he opted out.
Ward said his wife’s position had nothing to do with politics – she had held the job for seven years before he ever got involved in politics, he said.
While under “normal circumstances” it might make sense for the mayor to chair the board, Ward said, it didn’t apply in his case.
Cockayne’s assessment showed a “limited ability to exercise any type of rational judgment,” said Ward. “While he didn’t give it any forethought, I did.”
Ward "has really stacked this committee knowing the outcome," Cockayne said.
"Here's an example of direct savings for the taxpayers and we know what their answer is going to be," Cockayne said.
He said the unions won't agree to transfer money from the pension accounts to cover their own health care without getting something extra in return.
Cockayne said the decision about how to handle the pension excess is "a management issue" and "not a collective bargaining issue."
There's no reason to give unions so many seats at the decision-making table, Cockayne said.
But Ward said the role of the new panel is “strictly advisory.”
“They make a recommendation to the Joint Board,” said Ward. “It’s up to the Joint Board where it goes. It’s highly unlikely that anything that was not favorable to the city would go any further.”
The Joint Board is made up of members of the City Council and finance board, and finance commissioners outnumber councilors nine to six, said Ward, who said he’d like to believe that it would offer objective oversight.
Because the decisions made will directly impact the employees who belong to the unions, Ward said, it made sense to make sure they were represented on the panel.
“They need to have input,” the mayor said, because the decisions deal directly with their pension money.
“If he’s talking about being fair and equitable, why wouldn’t they have representation?” Ward asked.
Ward said he appointed T.J. Barnes, the chairman of the Bristol Republicans, to lead the new board. It wasn’t because of politics, said Ward, but because of the financial expertise that Barnes has.
Barnes, a banker at Valley Bank, has “a wealth of knowledge that he can contribute to the process,” Ward said.
Ward questioned whether Cockayne’s latest outburst would undermine Barnes’ work on the board.
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