New union contract should have been evaluated by town board

To the Editor:

This letter and the attachment [posted with the letter online at] are to document that the town supervisor was deliberately misleading the public again at the Aug. 26 town board meeting.

Mr. [Sean] Lyons publicly declared in an open meeting that I did not provide any input in the decision to engage the town in shared-services agreements. I consider that a lie. He then admitted I contributed to this discussion, saying what I contributed was two years old.

I consider that a lie as well. Judge for yourself; that document is available online. This is an issue of public safety and to lie to the public about public-safety issues is willful negligence in my opinion.

You may wonder why a shared-services agreement could result in danger to the traveling public and employees borrowed from another municipality. Well, the superintendent of highways has published claims that he need not follow the standards for work-zone safety adopted by New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law.

He is wrong. I have his published declarations of his ignorance of the law as well as instances of his dangerous violations of the law well documented. In fact, a vehicle ended up in the bottom of a deep excavation last construction season because of the superintendent’s well documented willful ignorance and negligence.

In this shared-services episode, the superintendent of highways moved a borrowed, defective machine into town in July that belongs to another town. He brought it here to address a dangerous condition he has negligently left in place since October 2019. 

I asked to see a shared-services agreement in July and there wasn’t one. When an accident occurs without such an agreement, that machine may as well be stolen. Someone is going to pay in that situation — probably the taxpayers in the municipality where the accident occurred.

To address this situation, the supervisor just copied an outdated shared-services agreement from 2005. He didn’t even edit the date. I did more work for the town in my contribution to the email discussion than anyone did in “drafting” (copying) and proposing an outdated agreement in the first place.

And I’m chastised for not contributing? I got only one response: “received.”

This is a decision that clearly impacts public safety and the safety of employees from other towns. A defective machine and no shared-services agreement? What could go wrong?

And the supervisor lies about my contribution to publicly discredit me? Board members didn’t even read what I provided? I think my opinions on the matter were communicated accurately and in detail in the attached document.

In fact, I spent several hours on each of several days putting that information together. I try to make sure my work is accurate and information is well-documented. That takes time.

There is a pattern here. At the same meeting, Mr. [Councilman Mathew] Harris then suggests that I should have put together a financial evaluation of the impact of the memorandum of agreement between the union and the town [“Berne highway workers get 3-year 10-percent raise in new contract,” The Altamont Enterprise, Aug. 27, 2020].

An evaluation should obviously have been done while the contract was being negotiated. I’ve seen no documentation that the impacts were even considered. I see no one negotiating in the best interests of the taxpayer in this “bargaining process.”

Based on my protest of the original agreement, the contract was supposedly re-negotiated from 12 percent in raises down to 10 percent. But there was apparently no bargain struck — nothing was traded to compensate for -2 percent? It was so ridiculously high at 12 percent that it appears the union just agreed to cut a couple percent with no trade-off. 

Mr. [Lawrence] Zimmerman followed the arbitrary town board rules, asking for a financial-impacts evaluation regarding the contract’s impacts on the budget. He asked weeks ago at a meeting in person (no answer) and then he submitted the questions to me and I provided his questions to the board in writing as is now the apparent requirement.

One question asked if an evaluation of the impacts the union agreement would have on the budget was done. No answer, no discussion. No sunshine.

No evaluation has been documented to date. No evaluation was brought to the meeting where passing the contract was on the agenda. I would bet no detailed evaluation was performed.

There was no definition of what the buyback value was for the newly provided comp time benefit. Was it straight time or time-and-a-half? I bet I know how it was going to be interpreted if I hadn’t asked. When you combine the new longevity bonuses with the 10-percent raise, you have an even higher percent increase (dependent on individual longevity).

What percent are the pay increases for each of the various employees with different longevities? And don’t three-day weekends create overtime anytime something needs to be done on Friday? Don’t three-day weekends impact holidays that would not be impacted in a normal week? Do they bank a day off and still get paid when a holiday falls on Friday?

How do these situations impact costs? Do any matching town contributions increase as these salaries jump up? How much does that amount to? How much is overtime going to impact the budget at the higher pay rates? There are other questions.

An evaluation is clearly the responsible thing to put together in a union bargaining process. I’m not an accountant.

We have an accountant on staff who has access to all the data, historical and proposed. She has direct access, skills, and knowledge to put accurate documents together to help the board evaluate these and other impacts, Mr. Harris. Apparently, nobody asked her for some reason.

Joel Willsey

Berne Town Board

Editor’s note: See related story. Closed Berne town board meeting goes public


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