West Hartford Forums

“A candle is enough to light the world”

Second West Hartford Budget Referendum One Week from Today

Posted by whforums on September 30, 2008

I hereby call to order an online Town Meeting.

One week from today, about 12,000 of us (if we’re lucky) will go to the polls and fill in the circle for “No” or “Yes.” We’ve heard from the folks at West Hartford FIRST and the WHTA, so now it’s your turn:

How do you intend to vote on the West Hartford budget referendum next Tuesday, October 7th (“No,” “Yes,” or “Undecided”), and why?

You get 5 minutes with your text box, max. And while established voices are essential, I’d love to hear from some new voices, too.

Advertisements

24 Responses to “Second West Hartford Budget Referendum One Week from Today”

  1. whforums said

    I’ll get us started.

    After the first referendum, I was “Undecided leaning Yes.” Mostly because I didn’t see the point in another referendum. I then sort of slipped back to the middle, because I saw that my argument was really more of an excuse to choose a side than a well thought out position.

    After reading the posts from WH FIRST and the WHTA, I think that the best argument “Yes” has is that if we’re going to spend tax dollars, we should be spending them locally. I think the argument the WHTA has is that a 5% tax increase — in a time of inflation and economic distress — is irresponsible governance.

    And those two positions leave me in a stalemate. Yet, I find myself shifting back to “Undecided leaning Yes” because of the types of stuff I’ve seen thrown around blogs and I’ve heard in conversations around my neighborhood. My general politics seems to align me more with “Yes” than “No,” which is once again an excuse for my vote, not a reason.

    So, one week out, I haven’t made up my mind, even though I continue to lean.

  2. Cynic said

    I think that had the Council come out after the last referendum and said “we need 5%, we know this is still high and going to hurt but along with it we will go along with an independant review of all department, credit card usage, and pay/benefits packages” we would not be where we are today.

    Going into this referendum the taxpayers are now looking at a financial situation that did not exist 5 months ago.

  3. WHTaxpayer said

    I will be voting “No” for one simple reason – with the economy faltering, housing values dropping and private sector salaries and benefits stagnating the taxpayers of West Hartford can not afford to continue the compounded 6%-7% increases in property taxes of the past 5 years to fund the generous wages and lavish benefits provided to Town and BOE employees.

    As negotiations with the teachers union proceed behind closed doors, a “Yes” vote says to the negotiators on both sides of the table that the “business as usual” gravy train is alive and well. A “No” vote tells both sides that we’ve had enough of “business as usual” and costs must be brought down to sustainable levels to forestall the looming financial crisis.

  4. newvoice1 said

    I will be voting “no”, if for no other reason than the Town Council might as well start making the tough decisions right now about where cuts can be made ; we may have been listed among the “Top 100” places to live, but last weekend we were listed in Business Week as #14 on the list of towns and cities across the country that stand to suffer the most from the current financial crisis. Things will only be worse next year!
    http://images.businessweek.com/ss/08/09/0925_crisis_towns/16.htm

  5. Cynic said

    Newvoice1, thanks for that BW article, didn’t see it in the print mag.

    BTW, we were not picked for the Money 100 because of our taxes or schools.

  6. WH Alum said

    I will be voting YES. I am concerned that further cuts now will further reduce our services. I would like to see an audit of how things are being spent and an analysis of where savings could be hiding – but I don’t think voting down the budget is the way to make that happen.

    I also disagree that our teachers have “generous wages and lavish benefits.” Sufficient, yes, and I do have questions on what we have heard/read about the upper-level positions on the town side and the bonuses.

  7. WHTaxpayer said

    WH Alum,
    Let me assure you that my reference to generous wages and lavish benfits is aimed more at Town and BOE upper-level folks than at teachers (whose post-retirement benefits are controlled at the state level).
    As an example, the Town Council recently had the opportunity to make a clean break from the “business as usual” mindset following Mr. Francis’ “retirement” to California with his $100,000/year pension, lifetime healthcare and new salary of $160,000/year. The Council could have offered the “interim” Town Manager position to Mr. Van Winkle at little or no increase in salary pending the completion of the “national search” for a permanent replacement. Instead, the Council increased Mr. Van Winkle’s base salary by $26,000. Not only would that have paid for the maintenance of the Prospect Avenue firehouse they are now threatening to close, but the present value of the cumulative increase in Mr. Van Winkle’s pension (over 20 years, discounted for inflation) would have paid for the renovations to the firehouse the Town says are needed three times over. On top of it all, the Town is paying for a national search for Mr. Van Winkle’s replacement.

  8. WH Alum said

    That’s good to hear, WH Taxpayer. Since your next paragraph was about the teacher contract negotiations and the “gravy train,” you can probably see why I interpreted the way I did.

  9. Kevin Walsh said

    “The Council could have offered the “interim” Town Manager position to Mr. Van Winkle at little or no increase in salary . . . ”

    I can just imagine that conversation:

    Slifka: “Great news, Ron. We would like to extend to you the opportunity to take on a bigger job with increased responsibilities. We’re not going to PAY you any more, of course, as there is no way we could justify to the taxpayers giving you both a promotion AND a raise. Besides, we’ve got a firehouse to fix.”

    Van Winkle: “Thanks, Scott. I’ll get right to work. And don’t worry about the no raise thing. You can just save the higher salary for the next person you bring in to do the same job.”

    Slifka: “Terrific. I already have your first assignment. I want you to find a reputable executive search firm that will help us with a comprehensive national search for your replacement. It goes without saying that money is no object – like you, they will have to work free of charge.”

  10. anonymous said

    Dear Mr Walsh

    Have you ever worked in the real world???

    Do you have any idea how many times employees in the private sector are told that they will have to take on more responsibility with no salary increase due to reorganizations and tough times???

    Forget what the town may or may not have done with the money.

    The fact is the town threw money at Francis when Feldman left and repeated the same mistake when Francis left.

    If he could have Slifka would have given RVW the job without a job search , while claiming the “best guy for the job” was in house all along.

    The real joke will be when RVW decides to retire when the new manager comes in and then gets a consulting agreement to help with the transition.

  11. Kevin Walsh said

    Anonymous, in the private sector in MY world, employees who are promoted to CEO (interim or not) of organizations with annual budgets exceeding $200mm invariably receive salary increases – in amounts that far exceed $26k.

    I do not understand your objection to a post-retirement consulting agreement with Mr. Van Winkle. Would you prefer that his replacement be brought for a transitional period BEFORE Mr. Van Winkle retires, so that the town is, for at least some period of time, paying TWO town managers?

    If you believe that the new town manager should NOT be brought in before Mr. Van Winkle retires, are you suggesting that Mr. Van Winkle should not help with any transition? Alternatively, are you saying that he SHOULD help with the transition, but should not be paid to do so?

    Just a few questions, on behalf of those of us in my world.

  12. whforums said

    Agreed. In my world, when people get promoted, they get raises. We can quibble over percents and dollars, but it seems ridiculous to quibble over a raise, even if for an interim position.

    People take on extra responsibilities without extra pay in the private and public sectors all the time — job descriptions aren’t the point. I’d suspect it’s the rare instance that someone is promoted without a raise, and I’d suspect in those instances that person has their resume in the hands of new employers pretty fast. I know I would.

  13. WHTaxpayer said

    I disagree. I am aware of a number of instances where a board or management committee was obligated to initiate an outside search but offered an interim position to someone inside. The benefit to the insider was that he or she immediately got on the short list of candidates for the permanent position and, in fact, became the standard against whom the outside candidates were compared. If the inside candidate was ultimately selected, he or she was promoted to the permanent position with the associated compensation. However, if he or she was not selected, they retained their previous position and compensation. In the present case, the interim candidate has been given the permanent compensation without having been selected for the permanent position. What do we do now should someone else be selected? Give that person more because he was found to be the better candidate?
    The present case demonstrates a lack of basic succession planning at best. If Mr. Van Winkle is the best candidate, offer him the permanent position immediately, as they did for Mr. Francis. If he is not, they should have prevailed on Mr. Francis to remain until his successor was identified or prevailed on Mr. Van Winkle to assume the additional responsibilites on an interim basis.
    When you look at this situation, you can’t help but see it for what it is – the old boy network looking out for themselves at the taxpayer’s expense. Mr. Van Winkle is 62. He is soon to retire. If he was the most qualified candidate, they would have offered him the permanent position immediately. Whether he didn’t want it, or they wanted someone who would stay around longer isn’t clear, but the Town took care of Mr. Van Winkle by dramatically increasing his present compensation (and future pension) and I expect he will retire as soon as the permanent candidate is hired. Impact of this move? $350,000 of the taxpayers’ money.

  14. Kevin Walsh said

    Whoa, WHTaxpayer. Just how do you imagine the town could have “prevailed upon” Mr. Francis to remain (Sorry, Folsom, but we’re just not ready to let him go quite yet), or Mr. Van Winkle to assume additional responsibilities, if not with money?

    Flattery? Threats, maybe? A rubber hose, perhaps?

    Meanwhile, how can the town determine whether Mr. Van Winkle (or anyone else) is the most qualified candidate before conducting a search? In your view, is it appropriate for the town to conduct a comprehensive national search for the next town manager? How much time should be allowed for such a search?

    How do you arrive at the $350k figure that you threw out at the end of your post?

  15. Anonymous said

    Dear WH Taxpayer:

    You hit the nail right on the head.

    It is all about the old boy network

    RVW got the best of both worlds.

    Why accept the position on a permanent basis when you can take it on an iterim basis and get the same money? Next at age 62 you can then “take one for the Town ” and agree to assist the new manager in the transistion process while taking your retirment pension and receiving comnpensation as a consultant.

    Mr Walsh, if you have never been involved in a restructuring or downsizing situation where poeple are given additional responsibilty with no additonal compensation, then you are a very lucky person. You certainly aren’t living in the same world as the msjority of people who experience this on a daily basis.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticizing you, I’m just stating that you have been extremely lucky and here’s hoping you never experience the real world.

    WH taxpayer is also correct when he states that this is an example of a complete lack of understanding succession planning. Regardles of whether Jim Francis or RVW was qualified, the town should have brought in some new blood when Feldman decided to leave. Francis or RVW wasn’t going to go anywhere unless something completely unforseen (like Folsom) happened.

    A new manager should have been brought in and had the benefit of their experience balanced with some new perspective to best serve the town

  16. Kevin Walsh said

    My goodness, Anonymous 11:24pm, where should I start?

    “Why accept the position on a permanent basis when you can take it on an iterim [sic] basis and get the same money?”

    (Mostly, I suppose, to get the “same money” on a PERMANENT basis.)

    “Next at age 62 you can then “take one for the Town ” and agree to assist the new manager in the transistion [sic] process while taking your retirment [sic] pension and receiving comnpensation [sic] as a consultant.”

    (I don’t know which is more outrageous: A) that an employee would actually collect a retirement benefit that he has fully earned and to which he is absolutely entitled; or B) that a retired person would expect additional payment in order to come back into the office to do additional work.)

    “[I]f you have never been involved in a restructuring or downsizing situation where poeple [sic] are given additional responsibilty [sic] with no additonal [sic] compensation, then you are a very lucky person. You certainly aren’t living in the same world as the msjority [sic] of people who experience this on a daily basis.”

    (As an employee of a Fortune 500 company since the late 1990’s, I have several times been given additional responsibilities with no additional compensation. However, neither I nor any of my thousands of co-workers have ever been promoted to CEO and expected to accept the same salary paid prior to the promotion.)

    “Don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticizing you, I’m just stating that you have been extremely lucky and here’s hoping you never experience the real world.”

    (I freely acknowledge that I have been extremely lucky: I grew up in West Hartford, and have been fortunate enough to be able to buy my own home here. I am content to stay in my world, and am not inclined to venture into yours.)

    “Regardles of whether Jim Francis or RVW was qualified, the town should have brought in some new blood when Feldman decided to leave. Francis or RVW wasn’t going to go anywhere unless something completely unforseen [sic] (like Folsom) happened.”

    (In my world, senior executives who are not selected for an open CEO position in their company frequently leave almost immediately. In my world, winning the lottery is completely unforeseen; getting an attractive job offer from a different employer is not.)

  17. WHTaxpayer said

    Sorry I didn’t get back last night, Kevin. I was watching the debate. Let me address your issues in order. How does one prevail on an employee to accomodate the needs of his employer of 28 years? First, by having a succession plan in place to limit the time it would take to replace the employee. The determination that no search was necessary was made immediately following the departure of Mr. Feldman. If it had been determined that such would not be the case should Mr. Francis leave, plans should have been in place for a seamless transistion – search firm selected, position defined, interim work arrangements made. Second, by insisting that the employee (who was in no danger of being laid off or forced out) give the earliest possible indication that he is even considering leaving. According to the Courant article, Mr. Francis was approached by a headhunter earlier this year, initially resisted, and finally agreed, so he’d been considering this for a period of months – months in which a smooth transition could have been arranged. After his August 6 announcement, he was gone within 3 weeks, so clearly he had done a good deal more planning than the Town had. Third, by insisting that he not leave his employer of 28 years in the lurch. Again, the article indicated that Folsom had been looking for some time, had employed a headhunter and had looked at a number of candidates. In other words, Folsom was going through an orderly process. Under the circumstances, would it have been unreasonable for Mr. Francis to request a two month delay in his start date to accomodate the needs of the Town that has employed him for 28 years and that will be providing Mr and Mrs Francis lifetime healthcare and a generous pension?
    Now please understand, I knew Jim Francis and I do not believe he felt he was doing anything to hurt the Town. I do however, believe that Mr. Van Winkle’s elevation to the interim position until he too retires was always the plan. There was never any other succession planning done because this is the succession plan. As I said before, it is the old boy network taking care of themselves at the expense of the taxpayer.
    Now, as to the cost, Mr. Van Winkle was making $119,002 and now makes $145,002 – an increase of $26,000/year. He can sell back 4 weeks vacation at 1/260th of his annual salary per day, so the new salary means his 20 vacation days are worth $2,000 more. Upon retirement, he is paid for 50 banked vacation days and 150 banked sick days at his final salary so these are worth $24,413 more than in August. Bonuses are undisclosed but as Town Manager he will certainly make a larger bonus than the $25,000 he averaged in his previous position. Finally, his pension is based on his highest earning years so even if he draws this salary for only one year the cumulative increase in his pension (assumed 20 years at a discount rate of 3% for inflation) is $268,819. Total cost to the taxpayers of WH – ~$350,000

  18. Kevin Walsh said

    WHTaxpayer, thank you for the response. I confess that it is not immediately clear to me how the existence of a particular succession plan would induce employees, departing OR remaining, to “accommodate the needs of their employer” if they are otherwise not inclined or contractually required to do so.

    As to “insisting that the employee give the earliest possible indication that he is even considering leaving” — you’re kidding, right? Accepting for the purposes of this discussion the assertion that Mr. Francis was in no danger of being laid off or forced out, how do you suppose his bonuses and future years’ salaries would be impacted if it were to become known that he might leave at any moment? As long as there was a possibility that Mr. Francis would stay, there was also a disincentive to disclose that he was considering leaving.

    “Under the circumstances, would it have been unreasonable for Mr. Francis to request a two month delay in his start date to accomodate the needs of the Town that has employed him for 28 years and that will be providing Mr and Mrs Francis lifetime healthcare and a generous pension?”

    First of all, and as I alluded to in a previous post, my understanding is that Mr. Francis has fully earned and is unconditionally entitled to the retirement benefits the town will be paying to him and/or his wife. By the way, the suggestion that recipients of retirement benefits should somehow be required to remain idle, and should not be allowed earn money as productive workers in subsequent employment, strikes me as bizarre and contrary to the values of a capitalist society.

    Would it have been unreasonable for Mr. Francis to request a two-month delay in his start date at Folsom in order to accommodate the needs of the Town? I cannot say it would have been unreasonable for MR. FRANCIS to make such a request; in fact, I believe that it would have been very generous for him to have done so, given the higher salary (as well as pension credit) he would certainly forego for that period. (I will assume that you would not be in favor of the town compensating Mr. Francis for any such lost items.)

    On the other hand, it would certainly have been unreasonable (if not delusional) for the TOWN to attempt to REQUIRE Mr. Francis to delay his retirement.

    Finally, thank you for the numbers.

  19. WHTaxpayer said

    Kevin,

    One thing to keep in mind during this entire discussion is that the Town Manager is the individual responsible for all those things I mentioned – succession planning, establishing a search process, etc.- not because he anticipated an attractive offer from Folsom, but because things happen to people and they must be replaced with as little disruption as possible. The Council should have ensured that an acceptable plan was in place, but it is the responsibility of the Town Manager to develop said plan for all management positions, including his own. Regardless of when he made up his mind and announced his decision, it was the Town Manager’s responsibility to ensure he was replaced without undue disruption or expense to the Town.

    Clearly, what has happened in this instance IS in accordance with the Town Manager’s succession plan, presumably with the Town Council’s blessing. Unfortunately, this plan is needlessly costing the taxpayers a whole bunch of money.

  20. Anonymous said

    Dear WH Taxpayer:

    Congratulations on articulating the points.

    The key point is that the Town clearly dropped the ball in doing an objective succession plan. You are correct the the town manager is responsible for making sure there is a plan in place. However, the town council ultimately bears the responsibility for insuring that the manager gets it done.

    This is just another example of the even bigger problem , which is that there is no accountability or objectivity. West Hartford has no independent internal audit function and the Town Council is always too eager to rubber stamp whatever the staff tells them.

    Does anyone really believe the town manager would come forward on his own and recommend a review of executive compensation, benefits and succession planning when he and virtually every senior manager is within 5 years of retiring??????????

    Why do you think that Jim Franics and the town council fought so hard to present a “maintenance” aka “that’s the way we’ve alwasys done it” budget???

    Dear Mr Walsh

    How many Fortune 500 CEO’s do you know who would still have a job if they answered tough question from their board of directors with “that’s the way we’ve always done it”

    Did you know that the town never specifically identifies in the annual budget what raises were budgeted for the town manager and his direct reports. Magically, the money for these raises was always found within other salary accounts because they knew exactly where to hide it.

    When challenged on this point what do you think was Jim Francis’ response???…. “that’s the way we’ve alwasy done it”

  21. Anonymous said

    Dear Mr Walsh

    Based on this statement from your post

    (As an employee of a Fortune 500 company since the late 1990’s

    Does this mean that you are somewhere around age 30??

    If that is the case, then that would explain an awful lot

  22. anonymous said

    Anonymous
    With apologies to Percy Bysshe Shelley

    I met a surfer on the net
    Who said: “West Hartford Blogs
    Speak of truth…” On them, in the posts,
    Half-buried in the endless rants, the passages lie,
    whose frown, and wrinkled lip and sneer of cold contempt,

    Tell me that their writer is unhappy here

    The rants survive, etched on lifeless drives.
    Written by a faceless being

    And in his posting these words appear:

    My name is Anonymous, Wise of Wise
    Look on my rants ye Readers and despair!

    His West Hartford, no longer fair,
    A Town of demise and decay,
    Traceable to Blueback Square,
    Nothing can brighten Anonymous’ day,
    His advice to you is:”move away”

    ————————
    As an anonymous poster, I am tired of all of the other anonymous posters on these blogs.

    Just as you should take this posting with a grain of salt, anyone else who writes an anonymous posting should be regarded in the same fashion.

    Own your words or how can we believe that your words are your own?

  23. Kevin Walsh said

    Anonymous 8:33pm – I do not believe, and have never suggested, that “that’s the way we’ve always done it” is a sufficient answer from a CEO to a board of directors. My point above was simply that it is unreasonable to expect that promotion to CEO should not come with a raise. I have read no coherent argument here to counter that position, and I stand by it.

    Anonymous 10:58pm –

    My statement that I have been an employee of a Fortune 500 company since the late 1990s means that I have been an employee of a Fortune 500 company since the late 1990s.

    While that statement suggests that I am AT LEAST 30, it does not even approach an adequate basis to logically conclude that I am “around 30.” It does not surprise me, however, that from this fragment of information, you have apparently leaped to a conclusion that is wildly inaccurate.

    P.S. – I’ll tell you my age if you tell me your name.

  24. whforums said

    And last I checked, those who are 30 (I’m 31) have the right to a vote and well reasoned opinion.

    Which brings me around to why I have, just this morning, decided to vote “Yes” — not because I think this referendum will have any real impact on our town (“Yes” or “No”), but because I refuse to align myself with the presumption, belligerence and accusatory tone of those who post (here and elsewhere) in favor of “No” (this is not to lump all “No” voters together, most of whom are reasonable, and, unfortunately, silent).

    The purpose of this blog is to foster reasonable, objective dialog about these issues, and sometimes that happens. And sometimes the process is entirely disheartening and makes me wonder why I’m wasting my time.

    As for the “anonymous” handle, it drives me crazy, too. I don’t mind if folks don’t use their real names (there can be real fear of retribution), but when you post with the name “anonymous,” you essentially make your handle/opinion untraceable, which fundamentally undercuts this blog’s essential goal — to foster dialog. I’ve changed comment filtering to hold all anonymous posts in moderation … there’s a post forthcoming on that change.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: