And another thing ... Discretionary funds reform needed; SIEU and politics

And another thing ... Discretionary funds reform needed; SIEU and politics

March 25th, 2014 in Opinion Free Press


Candidates who don't bring home the bacon often don't get re-elected, but Hamilton County commissioners - each with $100,000 worth of bacon at their annual discretion - are in the position where a little bit of pork strategically placed might be the difference in winning and losing.

The seven commissioners in contested elections - of the nine total on the commission - have directed $770,000 of their funds since July. While all of the spending is likely manna for the organizations receiving it, some for items that might not be obtained otherwise, the funds are a powerful campaign tool for incumbents that outsiders don't have.

Take District 8, for example. Among the four running for the commission seat, former Commissioner Curtis Adams has an art building at East Ridge High School named for him, and current Commissioner Tim Boyd was recognized recently for his contribution of a new sign at East Ridge Middle School.

Kenny Smith, who served a term on the Hamilton County Board of Education, and East Ridge Mayor Brent Lambert, neither of whom have such funds with which to play, may be wondering where the love for them is in the same race.

What to do?

Phil Smartt, who is running for commissioner in District 7, wants to get rid of the discretionary funds altogether, a statement he reiterated at a candidate forum in Collegedale on Sunday. Indeed, Hamilton is the only county in Tennessee that allows individual commissioners to personally direct more than $5,000 in public money per year.

Eliminating the dollars would be a lot to swallow for the myriad organizations which have received needed funds, but forcing the commission - rather than individual commissioners - to sign off on every allocation as small as $1,000 seems a waste of time.

No distribution of funds during an election year or within six months of an election might be possibilities, but filling an emergency need during those times also would be necessary.

Perhaps the new commission elected in August, before it spends the first dime, can come up with a workable solution.

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.


The union that spent $28 million to help elect Barack Obama president in 2008 recently inked a new agreement to represent Chattanooga's "regular full-time or part-time, non-exempt general government employees."

A 22-page memorandum of agreement with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Local 205, was signed by Mayor Andy Berke on Feb. 12, two days before Volkswagen employees voted 712-626 not to have the United Auto Workers represent them here.

The three-year SEIU agreement stipulates, among other things, that SEIU leaders will meet and confer with city leaders before any organization-wide pay increase or benefit change can be proposed, any compensation study is made or any personnel policy changes are suggested.

The union presently represents 210 employees, 22.7 percent of employees eligible to be represented, but can only represent "all employees who desire to be represented," Berke spokeswoman Lacie Stone said.

The SEIU's previous memorandum of understanding, which includes some of the same stipulations as the new one was signed in 2007 but expired when the Ron Littlefield administration left office in 2013.

It's unclear where the union - which is prohibited from entering into collective bargaining practices with a municipality - has assisted city employees, but it is clear that employees who choose to be represented have to pay union dues equal to 1.3 percent of their annual salary. Further, they also can elect to pay additional money to the union's Committee on Political Education (COPE) fund.

A COPE fund for a New Jersey union explained, for instance, that "it's impossible to succeed in lobbying without political action" and that "having a friend in the governor's chair is helpful when it comes to negotiating our terms and conditions of employment. ... The brilliance of rightness of our arguments rarely persuades politicians. ... COPE funds give us political clout."

The hubris is telling.

In 2014 alone, the national SEIU has spent $14.5 million on political action, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Of that total given to federal candidates, 100 percent - all of it - has gone to Democrats.

That's the same type of partisan politics the UAW practices - which VW workers rejected - and not the type that deserves expansion in a Chattanooga still trying to reinvent itself.