Uphill Battle For Cohen

| March 9, 2010 | 6 Comments

Air Of Mistrust From Council & Employees

If the State of the City address was any indication, Annapolis Mayor Josh Cohen has a battle on his hands and considering he is in his first three months of a four year term, the word “contentious” comes to mind.

It is apparent that the Council, as a whole,  is wary of the decisions made; and in part, outright opposed. Alderman Classie Hoyle (Chairman of the Finance Committee) said that the administration “rushed to decisions” and that the “unfairness of the situation makes me sick.”  Alderman Sheila Finlayson echoed Hoyle’s sentiments, “layoffs should have been the very last option we have not done due diligence before we eliminated jobs.”  Alderman Kenny Kirby also expressed concern for the way things have been handled. Finlayson stated that prior to the layoffs, a committee had presented an alternative to laying off people and balancing the budget, but it was not considered. (For a full  list of layoffs and eliminated positions, scroll to the end.)

During the public comment period, several people spoke on behalf of the city employees affected by the layoffs. The general feeling was that these people “built” the City and are now being punished. One firefighter with 39 years on the job said, “When you tear down a building, you start at the roof. You don’t start with the foundation.” Periodically, cheers rose from the capacity crowd (estimated at close to 200) in support of the employees and an especially loud one erupted when Cohen was criticized for allowing a security detail.

As Mayor Cohen took the podium, he explained that he “inherited a $6.3 million financial train wreck.” This appears to be a play from the Barack Obama Handbook–blame the predecessor. However, it remains to be seen how effective this will be for Cohen since his predecessor is of the same political party.  It also remains to be seen how long the electorate will accept that as an excuse.  Cohen (and all of the candidates) knew about this train wreck when they ran for office. In September and again in November, Cohen told the voters of Annapolis that he wanted this job. The Citizens deserve someone that will take the reins and guide them–not someone who shuns accountability and places blame.

Cohen explained that he is taking a balanced and equitable approach to the budget and is looking at all departments. He noted that no current police officer or firefighter would lose their job–although there would be vacant position eliminations. Cohen proposes to eliminate three departments and consolidate some of the employees into other departments.  He does plan to add a new position for another City Attorney as it “can reap dividends in preventing lawsuits.”

The Mayor referenced the County’s success at renegotiating union contracts and is calling on the four unions who represent the City to offer nearly $2.5 million of concessions in the current bargaining sessions.

On a positive note, the Mayor announced that the City Council and all exempt Department heads have agreed to give back pay in an amount equal to any concessions offered by the unions.  The Mayor’s salary was increased to $88,000 by the last administration and Cohen has taken a lot of heat for that move. It has been widely speculated that the increase was passed by the former administration specifically for Cohen who is supporting a growing family.  But in an attempt to share the cuts, the Mayor and all Department heads earning more than $100,000 have agreed to give back twice whatever the unions concede.

There was a bit of levity during the speech when students at St. Mary’s School (they were having an event) broke out in song outside of Council Chambers–the song, He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands.

Cohen closed his address by saying, “We are all in this together and we will get through this together. At the heart of every crisis lies an opportunity to become better, and we will.”

Regardless of intentions, Cohen can be assured that the City Council will oppose much of this budget. Already, he has three vocal opponents in Hoyle, Finlayson, and Kirby.

For a detailed list of the eliminated positions as well as the proposed eliminations, please click here.

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