Legislators tangle over resolution
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO The last vote of the day was the kicker.
Thursday’s meeting of the full County Legislature offered a glimpse into simmering frustrations between Republicans and Democrats, and in particular Democratic Majority Leader Kathy LaBuda and Republican Legislator David Sager.
The final item on the agenda was a resolution to adopt an alternative retirement plan for the county’s probation officers.
According to union rep Lou Setren, the plan gives officers with 25 or more years of service the option to retire at half-pay regardless of their age.
The old system required 30 years of service and was not available to anyone under 55.
“Not a lot of counties offer this incentive,” Setren noted.
So he was pleased when it passed the Legislature Thursday though with a 6-3 vote.
All five Democrats on the Legislature voted in favor of the resolution, along with Republican Minority Leader Leni Binder.
Sager and fellow Republican legislators Alan Sorensen and Jodi Goodman voted against the resolution, with Sager expressing concerns that the proposal had not been thoroughly researched.
“It didn’t go through committee as it should have,” he argued during the meeting, sarcastically adding, “If we’re going to subvert the committee process regularly, then let’s do that.”
Sager chairs the Legislature’s Personnel Committee, and when this matter was brought up in it, he wanted to discuss it further.
But last Monday, LaBuda circulated a resolution to give the officers this retirement incentive done, she admitted, because Sager wouldn’t entertain a vote on the resolution when she wanted him to.
The move reopened old wounds, especially for Sager and Sorensen, who have been criticized by their Democratic counterparts for introducing surprise resolutions.
In fact, LaBuda chided Sorensen at that meeting for introducing a resolution regarding night-vs.-day meetings at the Government Services Committee meeting he chairs, rather than the Executive Committee chaired by Jonathan Rouis.
Sorensen acknowledged the need to put forth resolutions in the right committee, but he and Sager have often been frustrated with what they see as Democrats partisanly enforcing control over legislative procedure.
Sager considered it disrespectful and a double-standard that LaBuda and her fellow Democrats were willing to bypass further discussion of the probation officers’ retirement package in his committee, sidestepping his authority.
“There was no rush to this,” he argued, confirmed by Setren, who said the “window closes in January.”
In fact, added County Manager David Fanslau, the Legislature might have even been able to delay a vote until next March.
But, said Setren, “this is an item Teamsters 445 has brought to the table since 1998.”
And about a dozen probation officers have left the department since that time, finding better benefits and pay elsewhere yet still costing the county nearly $4,000 to train and equip each one of them.
“The compensation is low, and the workload continues to expand,” lamented Setren, himself a probation officer.
LaBuda said this resolution was thus overdue, and while Fanslau had told her it could cost the county over $2 million if all 17 probation officers retired at once, the real cost for this coming year was likely around $52,000.
“And I think it’s time-sensitive,” she said, noting the turnover rate.
She told Sager to simply vote and get it over with.
“It’s not that simple,” he protested.
“It is for me,” she tartly replied.
“It’s a matter of protocol,” Sager insisted. “Do we understand if this is truly going to help with retention?
“There’s a process… and none of it was adhered to,” he observed angrily, concerned by Fanslau’s admission that officials hadn’t researched what other counties are offering probation officers.
Sorensen and Goodman agreed with Sager, asking it to be sent back to the Personnel Committee or at least delayed until more research could be undertaken. But LaBuda, bolstered by support from Binder and the Democratic majority, refused.
After the meeting, Sager said he felt LaBuda’s push to vote was based on a desire to look better than him and to get back at him for introducing a resolution to give jail deputies an overdue salary increase.
“I felt it was one-upmanship,” he said. “It’s yet another childish, petty act.”
LaBuda, when contacted after the meeting, said it had nothing to do with that, claiming she had offered Sager a chance to have his name on the resolution as one of its sponsors but he had refused.
She felt the discussion and research of past months had been sufficient and that Sager was trying to kill the resolution out of misplaced financial concerns.
“Everybody had three days, maybe four days, to go over it and ask questions,” she said. “What was the point in waiting?”