Las Vegas Sun

August 19, 2017

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Mayor ‘serious’ about firing/rehiring city employees

But door is still open for unions to agree to plan involving 8 percent pay cuts


Dave Toplikar

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman talked to reporters today about his plan to fire most city employees and rehire them with the understanding they would agree to a reduced work week for less pay. Goodman has presented it as an alternative to the tentative budget plan approved by the city council Wednesday, which includes laying off 146 city employees to make up for a $70 million budget shortfall.

Mayor Oscar Goodman said today he's been getting support for his idea of firing all Las Vegas city employees, then rehiring the ones who agree to work a shorter work week.

Goodman's proposal is designed to save the jobs of 146 employees who would be laid off in June under a tentative budget approved by the city council on Wednesday.

"Every phone call I've received so far — and there have been plenty of them — have been supportive of my position," Goodman told reporters during his weekly press conference at City Hall. "All I know is people in the elevator are saying, 'Go for it, mayor.'"

"I'm serious about this. If it's legal, it's going to take place," he said.

But the mayor says the door is still open for unions to agree to the city council's preferred alternative to deal with a $70 million budget shortfall -- across-the-board salary concessions that include an 8 percent pay cut during each of the next two years.

Although several union leaders called him a bully for proposing the firing/rehiring plan, "I don't take anything personally," Goodman said.

The mayor proposed the termination plan during Wednesday's Las Vegas City Council budget hearing, asking City Attorney Brad Jerbic to see if it was legal to do so.

So far, Goodman said he didn't have an answer if the firing/rehiring plan was legal. However, something similar is being tried in San Francisco, he said.

"I was sort of waiting to see if there was going to be a challenge to Mayor Gavin Newsom's letter that he sent out to his employees in San Francisco. As of early this week I was told there has not been a legal challenge to it yet," Goodman said.

"The same kind of guffaws greeted him. I'm trying to take a different route. I want to get the legal opinion before I do it," Goodman said. "I don't want to cause anybody any grief, aggravation or expense until I feel I'm doing the right thing legally."

The city council approved a tentative 2011 fiscal year budget Wednesday that makes the 146 layoffs, reduces some programs, raises some fees and uses $38 million in reserves to deal with the $70 million shortfall. The council will approve a final budget in May.

Under Goodman's proposal, most employees would be given a 60-day notice they would be fired. Public safety employees, such as firefighters or police officers, would be exempt, he said.

But everyone else's job would be up for grabs — although those currently holding those positions would be given first consideration, he said. To be rehired, they would have to agree to a shorter work week and receive a decrease in pay, he said.

Reducing their 40-hour week to 37.5 hours would save 6.25 percent and reducing it to 36 hours would create a savings of 10 percent, he said.

Goodman said he was still waiting for the employee unions to agree to the city's 8 percent salary cuts.

"Right now, I'm seeing how they're responding to our all-or-nothing approach," he said. "I don't want to back off of what we were told was necessary to have a balanced budget, to keep all the city employees employed and to provide all the city services that are being provided. At this point in time, it's all or nothing. But I'm not going to be hard-headed. I'm not going to be unreasonable. I believe the council will ultimately do the right thing."

Goodman said he spoke to one union representative today and planned to meet with another this afternoon.

"My door is always open," he said. "I don't take this personally. If they say I'm a bully, then that's their prerogative ... I'm open for discussion."

Goodman pointed out that he was term-limited and wasn't out for any political gain by his proposal.

"There may be some folks who disagree with that because I'm a little bit of a character, but I'm trying to do what I do in the best interests of the city," he said.

Several union leaders told the council they were upset that they had been trying to discuss other options with the city and had made some concessions.

Goodman said there might have been some discussions, but he had not seen any direct offers that would save the same amount of money as the plan involving the 8 percent salary cut.

"Right now, it is my only offer," he said. "The ball is in their court. If I can't do what I've asked the city attorney to research then I have to change my position."

The mayor said he didn't think the firing/rehiring plan was draconian as an alternative to the unions' refusal to go along with the city manager's plan that includes the 8 percent cuts in lieu of layoffs and cuts in city services.

"I believe it is the right thing. I believe in altruism. I believe in brotherhood. I believe that the city employees should feel that they're part of a community and that they should be watching out for one another," Goodman said. "That's what we've been taught in the Judeo-Christian ethic and if they don't want to do it, then I'll try to do it for them."

The mayor said he has received a plan presented Wednesday by the Las Vegas City Employees Association. However, he said he has not had time to evaluate that offer.

A reporter told him part of that plan was to dig more deeply into the city's reserves, taking it down to 8 percent. Goodman said he could not agree to that because the city needs those funds in place in case of a catastrophic event, such as an earthquake.

"We had a policy of keeping a 12 percent reserve. We've changed that policy, taking it down to 10 percent," he said. "We don't know what's going to happen in this economy. We're not going to dig into the stabilization fund because that's for emergencies ... That's not for making up a budget."

Asked about the possibility of raising property taxes further, Goodman said, "everything has to be discussed ...Nothing's off the table."

As an aside, the mayor said he had heard that Las Vegas headliner Terry Fator was going to add a puppet to his act called Oscar Mayor, representing Goodman.

"After yesterday's council meeting, instead of the bully pulpit, it's going to be a bully puppet," Goodman said, laughing.

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