A week after City Councilor Ken Cockayne denounced Mayor Art Ward as a coward who stacked a key committee to favor unions, the mayor tossed Cockayne off the panel.
In a memo to Cockayne Wednesday, Ward told the freshman Republican that because of his “demonstrated biased opinions, lack of sensitivity,” and an “absence of objectivity,” it would be impossible” to let Cockayne remain on a committee investigating the possible use of surplus city pension funds for other purposes.
Ward said later the move was “absolutely not retaliation,” merely a necessary step for the GASB 45 Committee to carry out its assignment.
“I’m not surprised by the mayor’s response,” Cockayne said. “I’ll leave it up to the taxpayers to decide if this was a retaliatory move.”
Cockayne said, though, that “taking me off this board will not silence me in protecting and fighting for the taxpayers of the city.”
Last week, Cockayne complained that putting nine union representatives on a panel of 19 established to investigate the use of excess pension cash was an “absolutely ludicrous” move by Ward and proof the mayor didn’t want “a fair and balanced committee.”
He also called Ward “cowardly” for not serving on the panel himself, a decision the mayor said was spurred by his wife’s job with the Board of Education that could call into question his objectivity on the issue.
Last week, Ward called Cockayne’s charges “totally disgusting,” in part because the councilor called the press to complain about the panel’s makeup rather than first lodging a protest directly with Ward.
Cockayne said that “perhaps I was a little too aggressive” in going after the mayor, “but we’re talking about saving taxpayers $72 million” and that’s too important to remain silent about.
“I still believe the mayor stacked this committee because he was against what I was trying to do, which is to save the taxpayers money,” Cockayne said.
Ward said that Cockayne has “demonstrated his individualism” on many occasions during the past year, but this time his “negative and derogatory comments” have made his presence on the committee a hindrance to its work.
The mayor said that if he wanted to take revenge on Cockayne, he’s had plenty of chances for a long time.
“Based on past history, I think that if I were going to do reprisals, I’ve had 12 months to deal with Mr. Cockayne where opportunities have presented itself. If that were the case, he wouldn’t be on anything,” Ward said, and might just be going to City Council meetings and nothing more.
In his memo to Cockayne, Ward wrote, “Your tendency to provoke animosity through inflammatory opinions does not serve the best interest of the mission of the board, which is to arrive at a reasonable consensus with regard to GASB 45.”
Cockayne said he knows more about the pension fund use than anyone on the council, having met with the city’s pension lawyer, actuaries, comptroller and personnel director long ago. Ward skipped the session, the councilor said.
“I have done more homework than the mayor has or any other councilman,” Cockayne said.
Ward tapped veteran Republican city Councilor Mike Rimcoski to take Cockayne’s place on the panel.
“Mike is very opinionated himself,” Ward said. “He has no problem stating his opinion, but he states it without negative and derogatory comments.”
Ward said the GASB 45 panel, named for an accounting rule, has to deal with “a very delicate and sensitive issue” and needs to be able to work together to weed through a complex tangle of laws and policy.
He said he set up the committee now “to try to attempt to have some resolution by time of the adoption of the budget” next spring. “That’s how complicated I view it to be,” the mayor said.
Ward said he asked T.J. Barnes, the city’s Republican Party chairman, to serve as the panel’s chairman because he has “the most financial wisdom of anybody on the board.”
“There are issues where you need to be able to reach across the aisle to work in the best interests of the community,” Ward said, and this is one of them.
Cockayne said that if the mayor was trying to reach a conclusion that would benefit taxpayers, he would have created “a fair and balanced committee” that included fewer unions and more “regular taxpaying citizens” who would have “no bias either way” on the outcome.
He said a fair review of the facts would lead the city to use the excess pension cash to fill new trust funds to pay for post-employment benefits, especially health care, that would otherwise need to be funded directly by higher taxes.
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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