May 18, 2009

Mayor won't bend on lawyers' plea for benefits

City lawyers who are seeking healthcare benefits for their part-time positions haven’t made a persuasive case, Mayor Art Ward said.

Ward called it “highly improper” for the city attorney, Dale Clift, to threaten to resign if he doesn’t get benefits before June 1.

“Economically, it’s not feasible,” Ward said “and, ethically, I don’t think it’s appropriate.”

Both Clift and an assistant city lawyer, Jeff Steeg, informed the mayor last week they would resign on June 1 unless the city provided healthcare benefits for the part-time jobs. Clift earns $33,000 as city attorney while Steeg gets $27,000 as an assistant.

Ward’s position has strong backing from at least one city councilor.

“I fully support 100 percent the mayor’s position,” city Councilor Ken Cockayne said. “I don’t agree with the tactics these guys took.”

Cockayne, a freshman Republican, said the pair “are trying to strong arm the mayor and council. I feel it is entirely inappropriate.”

The city has four lawyers, two full-time and two part-time. There is a fifth slot, for a part-time attorney, that has been vacant because the mayor and council could not agree on who should fill it.

Clift and Steeg told city officials last week they could not afford to keep doing the part-time city work unless they were included in the city’s healthcare coverage because their municipal posts are taking so much time away from their private practice.

Ward said he offered to fill the fifth attorney position if that would relieve some of the pressure and allow the two lawyers to stay on. He said Clift insisted that healthcare was the key.

City Councilor Cliff Block said he’s not ready to rule out offering medical insurance to the two lawyers.

He said he wants to know what other cities and towns in the region pay their lawyers so he can see how Bristol stacks up.

“I want to see what’s what” before making a decision, Block said.

The mayor and council met in executive session last week to talk to Clift and the personnel director, Diane Ferguson, about the threatened resignation. After they talked behind closed doors, the politicians booted out Clift and Ferguson to continue discussing options in secret.

It is unclear what, if anything, the politicians decided. They said they took no votes.

Ward said that he can’t give the lawyers a pay hike – or more benefits that cost the city – while he’s also trying to get municipal unions to agree to concessions that would save money for Bristol.

The city’s Salary Committee has occasionally discussed the idea of offering more to part-time lawyers, but it has never taken action on the proposal.

Ward said that no options are off the table and that a solution has to be found quickly.

He said he hopes he can find a way to preserve continuity in the lawyers’ office.

Cockayne said there is an obvious solution: hire Edward Krawiecki, Jr, who served as city attorney from 2006 to early 2008, to fill in.

Cocakyne said that Krawiecki is the only person he can think of who has the experience to step in and be reasonably current on the issues facing the city.

“He can do the job from day one,” Cockayne said.

Taking note of the likelihood that one of the city’s two full-time lawyers, Richard Lacey, may be out for a time this summer for personal reasons, Cockayne said the city has to act.

“We have to do something to relieve some of the pressure that’s going to be put on Ann Baldwin,” the other full-time city lawyer, Cockayne said.


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Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of the parable about the snake begging a woman to pick him up, when she does, the snake bites her. When she is shocked, the snake says, “Hey, you knew what I was when you picked me up.”

Dale and Jeff weren’t forced to take these jobs. They knew the salary, they knew the job was without benefits and they knew they were appointed officials who served at the pleasure of the Mayor and council.

Perhaps a better venue for their concerns would have been the Charter Revision Commission or the Salary Committee but springing it as they did, with undercurrents of blackmail was childish and unwise.

When the Mayor collected resumes last year he had six or eight candidates who understood the salary, and the lack of benefits but they were willing to take the positions.

Either the city should create another full time position to handle the load or it should advertise to replace these two guys. In either event the Mayor and Council should vote to accept the resignations and send them each a letter of thanks.

PS: To Dale and Jeff, don’t slam the door on the way out of the council chambers, it’s still creaky from the Kenny Johnson slam.

Concerned Conservative said...

Ward is right on this.

"highly improper"...to say the least.

Anonymous said...

What does Ward know about being ethical? Maybe some of his unethical issues should come forth.

Anonymous said...

Here's a quick lesson for 10:54:

"Give me benefits or I quit" is not blackmail; it is an ultimatum. There's nothing wrong with issuing ultimatums, as long as you're prepared to hear the bad news that you're not as valuable as you thought you were.

It would have been unwise for Clift and Steeg to beggar themselves to serve the city.

I can't wait to see who replaces them. Here's a parable: you reap what you sow. Here's another one: you get what you pay for.

(Hey wait, that's not a parable... but if the commenters will forgive 10:54's poor choice of words, maybe they'll forgive mine, too.)

Anonymous said...

To 1:38 Quick Lesson This!

First Google "parable woman and snake" to see that is in fact a parable.

Then Google "An idiot is an idiot" and find your response at 1:38 PM

The Goggle "Blackmail definition" and find the following (see 2 Obtain through threats.)

blackmail
n : extortion of money by threats to divulge discrediting
information
v 1: exert pressure on someone through threats [syn: blackjack,
pressure]
2: obtain through threats

Then understand that I stated the case perfectly at 10:54 AM

But of course when the facts don't match your side of the story, attack the accuser with nonsense.

Who are you, Steeg or Clift? Or maybe the always cogent Nancy Pelosi

Anonymous said...

Normally, I agree with Mayor Ward on most items, but I think this particular stance, yes an untimely request, is a bad move. The issue is not that the two attorney's are not ethical and dedicated employees to the city, because they are. The real issue is that because both individuals are loyal, dedicated, city minded residents of Bristol, who almost never say no to a question or task, they have both been asked to take on excessive amounts of work, (full-time work) much of it behind the scenes that the general public is not aware of, which has taken away from the hours they put into their own law practice and their families. These two positions over the years have evolved from part-time jobs, with part-time pay, and no benefits, into full-time hours. No one wants to work full-time for part-time pay. The salaries that these two gentlemen are paid for their dedicated service to this community is rediculous to say the least. It is probably about time that someone made a stand on this issue. It will be interesting to see a council meeting without them.

Anonymous said...

Dale is a nice guy and has a family to support. Let um go and move on...

Anonymous said...

I've also had a chance to see them work for years. They do a full-time job for pay that only a reporter would swallow (that's for you, Steve!). They deserve what they are asking for, however bad the timing!

life goes on said...

I hope that Steeg and Clift aren't going to spend their last weeks in office posting all of these self-professed accolades on this blog.
These past few postings could only have been posted by them or their admirers because they are truly sickening - u knew what the job was when you took it so suck it up or drag your butts.

Anonymous said...

WE WOULD NOT NEED ALL THE LAWYERS IF WE HAD POLITIANS WHO COULD DO THE JOB WITHOUT HAVING TO CHECK WITH THE UNION FIRST.

Anonymous said...

What a sneaky way to get a raise in a year when salaries are frozen or cut!

Anonymous said...

Re: 2:36 Poster

You have it outlined perfectly. In addition, I must assume there is more than meets the eye with this issue.

Dig, dig, dig, it's there somewhere as to why they requested what they did at the time they did it.

DUH said...

7:43, IT'S BECAUSE AS SMART AS THEY ARE, THEY HAVE NO COMMON SENSE.

Anonymous said...

Mayor won't bend unless you do things HIS WAY.

Anonymous said...

There has to be more to it than has been reported.

Clift and Steeg have too much class not to talk with the mayor first, too much class to make this a political football.

And it is widely known that some democrat lawyers did apply, contrary to what Ward said.

Anonymous said...

How did these part time city attorneys pay for their health care in prior times?
Apparently for years they managed to fund their health insurance from the proceeds of their private practices.

Well, it looks like even attorneys are victims of a broken health care system -- like the rest of americans who are struggling to make ends meet by existing on part time positions, or several part time positions.

I would say that these attorneys have done their volunteer community work quite well, but now its time for them to provide for their families by way of the private sector.
Let other attorneys make the sacrifice and do some part time community work.

It's time the government held the line on spending. For truly, the vast majority in the private sector are overtaxed, up to the eyeballs in consumer debt, and are simmply hoping to have a job tommorrow, and a roof over their heads.

The hardest thing to swallow is to be forced to pay extra taxes for the health care of government workers if one working in the private sector and can't afford health insurance for themselves.

The health care system is broken and unfair.

Fortunately, these attorneys can rebalance their situation by refocusing on their private practices in order to properly care for themselves.
Most average american workers forced into part-time work, don't have the opportunity to do that in these troubling times.

Anonymous said...

2:09
blackmail assumes that there is something sordid in the victim's life that gives the blackmailer leverage. sorry, but if you keep on with your "blackmail" theory then you are accusing the mayor of having something dirty that he is afraid clift and steeg will disclose to the public.
given the mayor-friendly tone of your posting, i can only guess that this was an unintended insult to your buddy.
as for your "an idiot is an idiot" comment, well, I say, "people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones", you "childish" hypocrite.

Anonymous said...

Steve did I overlook it or did you just not mention it...that Steeg and Clift are in business together in a private law firm? I think it's interesting and a lot of readers my not realize this.
I'm just wondering which one is the puppet and which one is the master?
www.steegcliftlaw.com/

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