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Uphill Battle For Cohen

| March 09, 2010, 11:17 AM | 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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Comments (6)

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  1. Jojo says:

    This is the most poorly written article I’ve ever seen on a news website! Check your grammar, spelling, and sentence structure….Did a second grader write this? I can’t even get to the point where I want to comprehend the content. I can’t get past the incoherency of material!!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Those alderman saying “we need more time. He rushed into a decision” weren’t even at the community budget hearings! I guess they were at home watching Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and just dreaming the money up. Citizens were at those meetings. Where were they??

    The mayor is the ONLY one stepping up to the plate, risking popularity, and doing what needs to be done. I don’t envy him right now. I’m as liberal as they come, and I completely support this. After all, he did say this was only for a limited amount of time. Funding to essential services are completely preserved, and Parks and Recs will get money back in later years.

    “However, it remains to be seen how effective this will be for Cohen since his predecessor is of the same political party.”

    This is not some popularity strategy. He’s just doing what he thinks is right, even if it puts him in an uncomfortable position. That’s admirable. I don’t envy him right now.

    “It also remains to be seen how long the electorate will accept that as an excuse.”

    Whaa? He’s lowered overtime by 35%, cut 1 in 10 city jobs, faced the largest snowstorm in recent history with pretty darn good response to residents, cut out the crazy wasteful sister city and fancy glossy magazine programs of Moyer, and been incredibly transparent and receptive to citizen input the whole way along. So…he’s not putting anything off or giving excuses! He’s jumping right into these problems and getting things done–all within the first few months of office.

    Geesh! How can you not be impressed?

    Oh, and Jojo…lay up on the local blogger! These folks do this as volunteers for cripes sake! Give them a break!

  3. EOA Staff says:

    Anon–I agree with you to a large degree and his moves are impressive. The “excuse” is just a crutch and Obama and his admin use it too much. Cohen knew it was a mess–the mess was known when they passed the budget on essentially a “credit card” last year. He wanted the job (and all that goes with it) and he got it. Stop laying blame at the foot of the old Mayor. This is the hand, play it! Now this is not to be construed to mean the old Mayor was not at fault. I believe a LOT of what she did brought this on, but she is gone. The sandbox now belongs to Josh.

  4. Thank you Mayor Cohen for delivering a valiant attempt at fiscal responsibility to the Finance committee. I appreciate your steady hand in the face of the police-union bully at the 2nd budget discussion at Mt. Olive church, and I applaud Kenny Kirby for standing up to her publicly.

    It’s galling that those public servants feel free to hire someone to tell you how to do your job. Not that you need to be told, but you work for the Citizens, and answer to us, and it’s not for the police union to tell you how to manage your budget, that is our job and I imagine you are getting lots of input, and we chose you to filter through it and make good decisions for us.
    So thank you. I trust you will make some good and some bad decisions like all of us, and that you are competent to do a good job in this tough time. Not to look too far forward, but I look forward to your decisions proving your capabilities and winning you my vote next time around.

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