Local government employees and the rest of us

Cal Beverly's picture

I admit: When I heard Peachtree City Fire Chief Ed Eiswerth use the phrase,”Don’t balance the budget on the backs of the employees,” yet again in the closing minutes of the City Council’s Saturday retreat session, I was steamed enough to yell at the streaming video:

“So, you want to balance it on my back instead?”

Then, after the chief complained about no cost of living and merit raises — not cuts, mind you; raises! — in the city budget, he proceeded to drive his little red fire engine off the cliff, as far as I was concerned.

He blamed the citizens of Peachtree City for not accepting their responsibility to pay more taxes to provide continuing yearly salary raises and benefit increases for city employees.

Quick note to Chief Eiswerth: You insult your ultimate employer, the taxpaying citizens of Peachtree City.

Chief, if you made that speech to your boss in just about any struggling private company in this recession-blasted country, you would now be an ex-chief. In most any private company struggling to keep its doors open, you would be invited to take your cushy defined benefit plan and fade on into taxpayer-paid retirement — at the citizens’ expense.

The current City Council is being way too polite to say the following to all public employees: We the taxpayers don’t owe you a job, and we the taxpayers don’t owe you a raise.

Like the chief, I take layoffs, furloughs, pay freezes and the like personally. Unlike the chief, I’ve actually had to lay off good, loyal employees, impose furlough days and freeze pay for the foreseeable future. Many of you private sector folks have had similar experiences, either on the dishing out side or on the receiving side of bad news.

It had absolutely nothing to do with their quality work or their individual goodness. It was an economic reality: Revenues have to match or exceed expenses, or else a private business loses money until bills can’t be paid and all employees lose their jobs.

Unlike the City Council, private businesses cannot unilaterally impose a tax on its customers to make up the difference. (It reinforces my growing conviction that one qualification for holding public office should be that the candidate has actually been responsible for making payroll for employees. Otherwise, it’s all just theory for the clueless candidate.)

Four cheers to Councilman Eric Imker for pointing out the obvious: The emperor has no clothes. The money ain’t there, and it likely ain’t gonna be there for several years to come. Mr. Imker, you are absolutely right to confront the status quo in local government.

The other four council members are beginning to seem clueless about economic realities. They need to be reminded who they work for. Clue: Council was elected to work for taxpayers.

A recent study showed a remarkable fact: Federal employees are the only ones with job security. They make way more money and have far more generous benefits than their counterparts in the private sector. Plus, it’s virtually a job for life — ever try firing a civil service worker, no matter how worthless he may be?

It turns out that much of the first “stimulus” money from the Obama administration was funneled to state governments to keep — guess who? — state workers from facing the same music the private sector was already facing.

Locally, we’ve already seen the incredible sense of entitlement some public employees have demonstrated in painful budget cuts in the school system.

And now we see that same sense of entitlement exemplified in Chief Eiswerth on behalf of city workers.

However, to be clear, I strongly believe that fire, EMS and police should be the last group of city employees to undergo layoffs. The typical bureaucratic tactic to combat any public employee layoffs is to cite what effect it would have on critical public safety workers.

That’s just bogus misdirection. What any conscientious city manager should do (and the military teaches such staff work well, as our current city manager should remember) is to draw up a list of priority employee positions, from most essential to least essential, then start suggesting cuts from the least essential end of the list.

That may sound harsh to city employees, but the fact of the matter is that some jobs are just more important to the public safety than others are. Let’s just recognize reality.

Hypothetically, you could mothball entire city departments without affecting public safety, the bottom line reason for having government in the first place. Mr. Jefferson, Mr. Madison and I all agree on that.

In good times, have the nice-to-have amenities. In bad times — the worst since the 1930s — cut the nonessentials in order to preserve the essentials. The state, to its credit, seems to to be coming to grips with that reality. Peachtree City seems to be a little behind the reality curve.

I disagree with Mayor Don Haddix that furloughs should be off the table in Peachtree City. He says the city is not like a private business, mainly because there are “citizen demands.”

I say provide the essential — public safety — via taxes, and let the other “demands” pay their own way via user fees.

There’s a bogus “property value” argument being made by some to justify raising taxes and keeping Peachtree City “special.” Have you tried to sell your house lately? How’s your “special” property value holding up? Do you think soccer fields and tennis centers and weekends at The Fred and better ISO ratings can overcome The Great Recession?

Arguing that the values would be worse without those things is specious and unprovable. Such an argument is nothing more than a spoiled pipe dream.

I agree completely with Mr. Imker: It’s time to deal with reality. Private sector taxpayers are a lot worse off than almost all government employees at all levels.

To demand that we battered taxpayers pay more property taxes to give already well-situated, well-paid and well-benefited public employees cost of living and merit raises — as the chief asserted — is not only an insult to the taxpayers, but an affront to common sense.

Climb down off your public yacht, chief, and join the vast rest us of here in this increasingly crowded and underfunded lifeboat trying to stay afloat on the choppy waters of reality.

You know, the rest of us? The ones without public paychecks, with jobs and without jobs, with health plans and without health plans, with dependent coverage and without dependent coverage, with pitifully depleted 401(k)s and without any retirement plans of any kind, with no raises of any amount for years now, merit or otherwise, nervously employed and grateful to just have a job, who pay for that entire city department.

Chief, I respectfully decline your demand that I pay more taxes for your raise. Be glad you don’t have to make payroll in private business in this economy. Raises are the last thing you would be worrying about.

And on behalf of a growing army of unemployed taxpayers, be grateful you have a job.

L.Sussberg
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Mr. Boyett

Mr. Boyett

I read your post. Thank you for identifying this.

As for Mr.Ms Roundabout. 99.99999% of people deserve a response. Meet the 1 exception. Roundie enjoys what he/she does. What is that? Look through the various posts, most recently the one involving crime. Do not be lured into this vaccum/vortex. It will only upset you. Just look at the postings and comments on every topic. Intention to annoy only.

Thanks

Randy Boyett
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Cal Beverly's Observation

It is interesting that Cal Beverly and I had similar observations. Last year I began attending Peachtree City Council Meetings as I was concerned with what I was reading regarding the budget and the effect on taxes and services. I did not know anyone on the Council and I had an open mind and talked to everyone. It did not take long to determine that Eric was the person that had the knowledge and experience to understand the City budget and was the person with the leadership to question staff assumptions. Eric was the person who, when asked a question, would invite me to a meeting with other citizens and discuss in detail what he saw in the budget, his concerns, and what he would do to address budget challenges without raising taxes or reducing services. He was available, open, and knowledgeable which was a stark contract to Mayor Haddix. The Mayor’s response was basically trust me but we have to raise taxes (documented).

When I talked to Mayor Haddix and Councilman Sturbaum they did not seem to understand the details of the budget but were taking the position that a tax increase was necessary. The Mayor was taking every opportunity to scare citizens that services would be cut if there was not a tax increase but refused to offer any details even when pressed repeatedly to detail what services would be lost without a tax increase (this is all documented). Haddix also mischaracterized the proposals to eliminate the need for a tax increase (again, documented) in such a way that his comments were untrue and misleading. The opinion I formed was the he did not have the willingness needed to understand or address the City’s situation and was shallow in his budget approach – it was just easier to raise taxes.

Mr. Allen seems to be taking the same tack as the Mayor. Attack without substance and offer no solutions to major issues. I will support Imker because he has proven he will work in the best interest of the Peachtree City taxpayer and he has the experience needed to understand the budget. If the council had taken his recommendations last year there would have been no tax increase then, this year, or next year.

I am glad that Cal Beverly has observed the same things – it is nice to have your observations validated.

roundabout
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Randy Boyett: Taxes

Did not Mr. Imker vote for raising our taxes by 300% over what the Mayor proposed?

Could I be mis-informed?

Is their more than two ways to cut the budget: Layoff people and raise taxes?

What other ways are Mr. Inker's secrets?

madmike
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RAB: Could I be mis-informed?

Lol Roundy, your life is defined by being mis-informed! Before your question can be answered, it has to be restated as it is horribly phrased (i.e. raising taxes is not a way to cut the budget). I think what you meant to say, if you will allow my help, is:

Are (not "is") there more ways to meet the budget revenue requirements other than laying off workers and/or raising taxes?

The answer, of course, is yes. The cost associated with having city employees is only one of many expenses that could be cut to reduce the operational budget. Eliminating legal fees that arise from a mayor who can't learn to keep his trap shut when he needs to comes to mind. Additional revenues could be derived from bringing in new businesses to our city; a difficult task since the Mayor ran away the guy hired to do this for the city and offends the other county agencies tasked with this objective.

roundabout
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madmike: Mayor is strong

Railey week re-ponse Mad!
We haf legel fee avery yar no mattr whut!
Whut "new" bisnes--thet takes yars to be wurthwhil!
The feler who quit wuz a dud ennyway. Neded firin.

PTC lections re-mine me uf them whut after thu Presiident. BS an nastie stuf wif no rail factords.

Ye liv wif whut mayer ye eelect! Whut hapens whin ye haf one before him whut were sad----jesty lak Bush got us the vary first African Mericun.

I nevir tuk tim to keerect thisin nether.

Randy Boyett
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it is documented

Mr. Roundabout

Please get yourself a copy of the Council minutes of 09/02/10. It is all documented.

Haddix positioned this so Eric has no choice but to select the rate that he did after the council killed his proposal that would have eliminated the need for a tax increase without reducing services.

Anyone that wants the facts can see it in the minutes and video. I also have additional documentation in the form of email. If people would just do their due diligence and spend a little time looking at the details the Haddix story time would fade away.

roundabout
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Randy Boyett

Had no choice but raise taxes way up??? Shows what he will do again if he wants.

Was a gun held to his head to make him raise our taxes 300% over Mayor's rate?

He could vote no and no tax raise. Then somebody would have to be laid off wouldn't they? That might hurt his chances at election time.

I'm a little tired, no a lot tired, of this crap about "read the book," and you will know what I can't seem to say!
What was this "Positioning" he did?
One can always raise taxes enough to balance the budget---hard to cut heads! (for some).

madmike
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VOTE IMKER POST 1

A 2010 article that has increasing importance in late 2011 as we near the election. Certainly worth another read

Some highlights:

"I disagree with Mayor Don Haddix that furloughs should be off the table in Peachtree City. He says the city is not like a private business, mainly because there are “citizen demands.”

"Four cheers to Councilman Eric Imker for pointing out the obvious: The emperor has no clothes. The money ain’t there, and it likely ain’t gonna be there for several years to come. Mr. Imker, you are absolutely right to confront the status quo in local government."

"I agree completely with Mr. Imker: It’s time to deal with reality. Private sector taxpayers are a lot worse off than almost all government employees at all levels."

Matt Pound
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All I gotta say is when your

All I gotta say is when your house decides to catch fire and your whole family dies I bet yall goin be sayin damn where was the fire department, Oh yeah they couldn't come because of budgets cuts the couldn't afford to bring enough people and trucks to put the fire out and save your family.

XvolunteerFF
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Chief out of touch with reality

I agree with Cal that raises are out of line with the struggling economy!

Many tax payers have not had raises and are lucky to have a job.

During good times, the City Council improved the defined benefit package.

Time for the PCFD to weather the storm like everyone else.

Ask Ed if he got a Cost of Living Allowance from the military on his pension, just like SS reciepients the answer would be no. How can the city do what the Feds aren't doing?

Spear Road Guy
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You're A Nut Dar!!!

Nearly every corporation in the country is laying people off left and right. You're dead wrong Mr. Know It All. McDonalds is NOT raising the price of hamburgers!!! They're creating more $1 items and adding special sales. Dell is NOT raising the price of their computers!!! They're keeping the prices down and bundling in other merchandise free to get the sale. Get a brain son.

dar thompson
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I Guess

I will have to explain it to you.

First of all, I hope you are not comparing PTC to that of a McDonald's. I would like to think we are more of the Ruth Chris Steak-house type. By the way Longhorns and Outback haven't lowered their prices and you still have to wait.

I guess the question is do you want steak or do you want hamburger. If you want hamburger you may have to move somewhere else.

Secondly, I said increase revenue, not prices. McDonald's is attempting to increase market share...they make the profit on drinks and fries, not the hamburger.

Please go take some classes in economics...i'm sure "you have a brain," your just not using it very well.

Robert W. Morgan
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Dude, your house is not a hamburger

If you must use a fast food analogy to understand the "value" argument for local taxation, here it is:

McDonalds is selling $1 menu items to stay in business, keep its employees and basically keep the business running and its store locations intact so that when the economy recovers they are still in business. That makes their business (and each store) MORE VALUABLE!

PTC raising taxes keeps services and amenities in place so that when recovery comes we are still "in business" as a quality city and therefore the city and our individual houses are - guess what - MORE VALUABLE!

Dar is right, I am right, McDonalds and Dell and thousands of others who will survive this recession are also right. Hopefully there are enough votes on council to do the right thing to maintain the value of our city and each house and also each business. At the risk of repeating, let Mr. Imker yak in his sideshow and the rest of council should raise taxes (modestly) and continue doing cost savings wherever possible without deviating from what PTC is all about.

alanf33
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Is this city worth it or not?

I have no desire to pay more of my hard earned money to the federal government for some trillion dollar scheme to 'save' us all from ourselves, but I do love this town and do understand that if we want to be the best city in the Atlanta region we will have to pay for that position.

Taxes are needed. The idea that all taxes are bad is childish. The idea that we should give ever more to the federal governement so that we can do their bidding to get it back is criminal. The Tea Party message should not be misconstrued. It simply says that we best goven when we govern locally. Our property taxes, when compared with most cities in major metropolitan areas across the nation are LOW. And we still have better amenities and lifestyle than do those folks up north. If you want to maintain a city that is a desired location for successful families, please take stock and be prepared to pay a little more to maintian it.

Our city is getting older. We are in real danger of having our infrastructure collapse if we are not willing to do what is needed to maintain it. This will cost money. Unless you are prepared to grab a shovel and mix cement in a wheelbarrow (as a volunteer) then open your mind and your wallet a bit and we together can keep Peachtree City the jewel that it is today.

As for our city workers, we either pay to keep the best or maybe we should outsource...see how well that is working for our groundskeeping? If it were not for my neighbors and I taking turns mowing the city maintined areas on our street, the grass would grow to two feet between scheduled mowings. I don't know about you, but I'd rather not have to call my neighbors and have them come running with buckets and garden hoses if my house catches fire. Determine what is a fair scale (by comparison with other cities in the region) and pay the professionals! It really is that simple.

dar thompson
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Robert Morgan

Did not see your post before i wrote...funny how you and i are on the same page. Unlike me (according to spear road guy), i'm glad you have a brain.

dar thompson
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You Simply Don't Get It

It's impossible to try to explain algebra to someone who hasn't done first grade math.

The reason we are in this mess is simply because past administrations didn't do their jobs. This is the problem when we elect officials who don't understand money and how it works. Those of you who can't comprehend a $2.00 or $3.00 monthly tax increase will be the same people who will wonder why their home values have declined ten or twenty thousand dollars over the next several years and will have no understanding to why their prized city has turned into a ghetto.

cal, not all, but many well run company(s)strive in these economic times because they understand money and value. creating value (revenue)is a much easier solution than cutting cost (decreased values). mr. imker is running the 100 yard dash the only problem, the race is a marathon.

Robert W. Morgan
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Exactly right, dar. That's what I have been saying

Gradual tax increases are not the end of the world and keeping services and amenities does in fact maintain and eventually increase home values. Cal dismisses this argument, but I'm glad you and some others understand. I hope we get 3 or 4 people on council to understand it as well.

And yes, cutting always gets back to personnel as Mr. Brown correctly states and there may have to be some of that - outsourcing building department is a good halfway step.

And praises to you for focusing on the other side of the equation - revenue. A business that just cuts costs without trying to grow revenue is short-sighted and doomed to go out of business. I don't want our city to fail, so listen up people - there is another side to the solution of the shortfall problem - REVENUE! Whether it be user fees, license fees, modest tax increases or my favorite subject - economic development, additional revenue can go a long way to solving our problem.

Thanks dar, you get it.

dar thompson
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Robert Morgan

Thanks...it's nice to know that there are a few who truly understand the program.

Bonkers
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Dar

I can not follow you!
2.00 or 3.00 dollar monthly tax increase compared to home values have declined over the next several years; and we have a ghetto.
Who hasn't done first grade math? Isn't that 1, followed by 2, followed by 3, etc.?

Also: not all but some well-run companies "strive?" by raising revenue---isn't that a tax increase, every time it is needed? Wouldn't all well-run companies be ALL?
Imker seems to know about the marathon coming, I think!

dar thompson
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Your Correct

you don't follow. Do you think company's make money by not increasing revenue.a little help...you can't sell something for less than it cost to produce.

Bonkers
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Dar

Are you a second language person or something, giving you an excuse for such hard to understand phrases as you use?
Or, are you simply, simple?

I thought exercise gyms died years ago from owner/cheaters but you seem to have a new spiel or something there! Fads come and go, I guess.

Didn't you cut prices on the "joining fees" to get more customers?

Bonkers
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Raises instead of layoffs!

Cal, I can't come up with as many words as you did on this subject, but I do agree with almost all you said.
You do know of course that $26 a piece for all of us is small potatoes when it comes to getting by one more year?
Of course next year it appears that $26 more dollars then won't support them either, and the year after etc.
Temporary planning is what got us into this mess!
I am an advocate of everyone sharing fairly in a good living when it is available. Scores of millions for some while one in six are jobless is stupid.
I am also fed up with teachers, fire departments, police departments, universities, Marta, C-Tran, etc., vowing that it is unfair, unsafe, and racist to cut them at all.
We are in a severe recession, and an odd one---products growing at the same time unemployment is also growing and homes and commercial businesses, along with many banks, have many failures to go.
I'm afraid that product growth is paperwork created by ingenious bankers, however. Heck, even loans are considered products!

Of course there is a limit to cuts in some areas, but aren't there yet by a long shot! How many hundred employees do we have in Peachtree city? Not counting the contractors.

Bonkers
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Addendum to Cal

It may be time for some conservative newspapers also to think about what got us into this mess and be somewhat more fair with opinions from the elite and their followers! Many who support such papers are also damaged by the recession and are surely wise as to what caused it. They will continue to support fair criticism in my opinion.

Robert W. Morgan
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2 points to consider, Cal

Almost everything you say makes perfect sense and I'm glad you presented it the way you did. That being said, I have 2 problems that I must state.

1. The discussion between Mr. Imker and Chief Eiswerth is certainly typical of those that occur in the private business sector and drawing attention to the private sector is good because it leads to one huge difference. In the private sector these discussions would be held behind closed doors and not quoted on the front page of a local newspaper or shown in live video on the private employers website. This of course is not a private company, it is a city government, but even there we have a provision to conduct personnel discussions in private and I for one believe that these discussions should be conducted in private. Naturally your default position has to be freedom of the press and the public's right to know, but before you beat me over the head with that sword - consider this. Would it not be easier for either side to arrive at the inevitable compromise if they did not have the albatross of previous public statement hanging around their neck? Of course it would. The Chief is sincerely loyal to his people as he should be. The Councilperson is still campaigning (possibly because of the media coverage of these discussions), but he is correct in at least keeping the issue of staff cuts on the table.

2. The "property value" argument is not bogus as you state. Nor does that argument propose to overcome the Great Recession. You introduced that as something new solely for the purpose of ridicule. The property value argument states that it is better to raise taxes on homeowners now (in small increments) in order to maintain services and yes indeed ISO ratings and that will maintain property values over a long period of time. In a recession no values are maintained, instead it is simply a question of would you rather buy a house in PTC where there are amenities and services and no obviously run down or abandoned neighborhoods or would you prefer something in Clayton or Henry County where the future is uncertain? Either way you are buying at the lowest price, but the obvious answer is PTC even though current prices are flat - and that allows for some bargains on the market and there are many right now. Of course when recovery occurs in the housing market, price appreciation will be greater and faster in stable communities with full services and amenities as opposed to areas that have to go through a rebuilding or restarting of their amenities and government. And I must mention once again, economic development is much more likely in stable areas with amenities and services than it is in areas where the future is uncertain. Of course it would be better if we had a staff person dedicated to economic development in PTC - much more important than Tourism.

inkslinger
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Morgan-Please rethink some of this

I know your comments are directed to Cal. Forgive me for interjecting here.
You tell us the Chief is sincerely loyal to his people as he should be. You know, I say the Chief should be sincerely loyal to this employer. To who signs the paycheck. The city, which is the citizen taxpayer, ultimately. If he feels we are not recognizing what the FD does, he is wrong. And now, he has set up an us(FD) against them (taxpayers/council) mentality. Which is very, very bad for us.

As for Councilman Imker, I don't get this recurring theme of "he's still just campaigning". Why such a putdown? He was voted in on his budget issue and is now following thru as he promised. Are others who were just voted in and are keeping their promises "just campaigning", too? Is he abrasive in getting out his message? No question. Just remember, though, don't shoot the messenger. None of us like or want bad news, but it is there-the numbers support him. Are his suggestons to fix it all going to work and please everyone? No, but no one will be totally correct here or be able to please everyone.

Finally, Tourism is a necessary evil, by state law. It is there to receive and dole out the collected hotel tax. No on in PTC can change that. The Mayor is trying to get some of that money directed to Dev. but the law has strict guidelines as to how it is spent.

Robert W. Morgan
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Ok goil, I am rethinking it

But nothing has changed. I'll just explain further.

The chief's loyalty to his people is similar to a military organization where people have to do hard things because their boss tells them to. And most real leaders know that loyalty is a two-way street. Again, this is really easy to understand, but I don't believe it needs to be played out in public. Believe me, the chief knows he is paid by the taxpayers and he also knows the cameras are on.

On Imker, he is a one trick pony who is still campaigning in the sense that he has only that one issue (cut the fat in the budget) to promote since he obviously lacks the business and management experience to get into a problem-solving mode. That's what inexperienced people do - they bluster and bully to cover up their own shortcomings. Tomorrow night is his chance to apologize for his comments at the retreat. I hope Haddix has gotten to him.

Again, having this discussion in public reflects badly on both the chief and the councilperson.

Tourism is easy. Simply hire a new director of tourism and expand their job description to "assist with economic development" and get it done. It is not like they keep time cards of how they spend each hour of the day. Be creative people. Creative is not the same as illegal. If it is illegal I have no doubt one of our former mayors will make a complaint.

inkslinger
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To Cal, From "The Rest Of Us"

Thank you for getting on your editorial bully pulpit and calling a spade a spade.

Spear Road Guy, agreed on all you said but the firing. Time will solve this issue.

jevank
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Great article, Cal

I feel the same. We all want Peachtree City employees to have the best of everything. Unfortunately, it is on the backs of real people going through the same hard times. Even people uneffected by the economy are more than likely helping family and friends get through the recession.

Get a clue Eiswerth! I happen to know someone very qualified who would take your job in a heartbeat.

Spear Road Guy
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Thank You Cal Beverly!!!

Well said. Oh, and Imker was right, there are 30 others willing to take Chief Eiswerth's job and the City Manager's job and every other job.

Unemployment is closing in on 12% in our state and Eiswerth wants his cost of living raise??? Fire him and hire a more qualified person for $25,000 less.

sas
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Qualified person

Show me, what you consider, a qualified person who would do this job for $25,000 or less.

Mike King
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SAS

A counter proposal for you: Have the Deputy Fire Chief assume the responsibility as Chief at the Deputy's pay scale while furloughing the Chief. Hell, in my current and former lines of work his outburst would be grounds for immediate termination. Do this for perhaps each department and the city has saved over a million bucks annually.

Times are hard, decisions are going to be difficult, and protecting those at the top of the 'food chain' is just a bit biased against the average worker.

Bonkers
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Goodness Mike!

Never expected this from you! Fire all department heads who make too much and promote the deputies!
Did we make that many mistakes in hiring the chiefs?

I am certainly for a personnel cut to cover at least this year's budget shortage plus next year's projected shortage. In addition cut all expenses 10% at least. However I doubt your proposal is serious. Sounds like a "shake em up" thing.

Now Mike, you really can'r compare small city politics to the military when handling public comments about operations!

We can't even get enough to join the military any more without giving the house away. Plus they are taught to follow guidelines precisely.
Civilians do not have to do that and probably won't get fired.

inkslinger
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sas

Obviously another city staffer.

I suggest you adjust your glasses and read Spear Road Guys's post again.

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