On his first day back at City Hall after suffering a stroke, Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle called out City Council members — specifically mayoral candidate Jean Stothert — for attacking raises he gave to top officials.
He tried to divert attention to raises negotiated by the council and the cost of the council's inability to sign a new contract with Omaha's fire union.
Suttle illustrated his point with a demonstration.
He laid out three piles of paper bills on a table. The first stack represented the $59,000 in raises he awarded to his chief of staff, finance director and public works director. The second stack signified the $94,000 worth of raises in a contract negotiated by the council with the city's fire management union. The council is set to approve that contract today.
“These raises come from a process chaired by council member Stothert,” the mayor said.
The final stack represented the $4.2 million cost of decisions by the state's labor court and other expenses related to the lack of an approved fire contract.
Going without a contract also has increased the amount of the city's police and fire pension liability by millions of dollars, Suttle said.
“Council members are hoping if they create a stir about $59,000 in salaries, the public won't notice,” Suttle said.
A year ago, the council rejected a contract with the fire union that the Mayor's Office negotiated. That proposed contract would have ended pension spiking, raised the age of retirement and frozen wages for 2010 and the first half of 2011.
It also increased wages in 2012 and 2013, however, and allowed retirees to retain favorable health care coverage.
“A majority of the council promised taxpayers to negotiate a better contract than the agreement I reached with Omaha firefighters and they rejected one year ago this week,” Suttle said. “What happened to that promise?”
Suttle said the city will meet again with bond ratings agencies in September. Last year, the city kept its AAA bond rating, which results in lower interest rates. But the rating agencies indicated that the city's bond rating was contingent on reaching an agreement with the fire union, Suttle said.
Suttle awarded his chief of staff, Steve Oltmans, a raise of $25,000. The Mayor's Office is now projected to be $16,000 over budget, though members of his staff said that's not directly related to Oltmans' raise.
Andrew Monson, a spokesman for the mayor, said Suttle will work to reduce expenditures to be on budget by the end of the year.
Another $25,000 raise, to Finance Director Pam Spaccarotella, was awarded last August.
Suttle said he included the raises in the 2013 budget in order to be transparent, even though the raises were not included in the budget for the current year. The mayor can award raises to his staff and department heads without approval.
Stothert took issue with Suttle's comments about the fire union contract, saying she wasn't the sole authority behind its rejection.
The raises awarded to fire managers, she said, are fundamentally different from those awarded by Suttle because the managers' deal is handled through a labor contract, while the mayor sets department heads' salaries.
“Our goal is moderate salary increases and significant health care and pension reform,” Stothert said. “That's what the City Council wanted. All seven. It's not Jean Stothert's contract. It's not Jean Stothert who led negotiations. This is the entire City Council.”
She said she's not surprised negotiations have taken so long because the union has gone without a contract since 2007. The council hired a lawyer to negotiate contracts in January, she said, and has been working on multiple contracts simultaneously.
“Mayor Suttle negotiated for years. We've been at it seven months,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Nebraska chapter of Americans for Prosperity announced it will launch a radio ad campaign attacking Suttle over the raises. The council will vote today on a resolution that would admonish Suttle for his handling of the raises.
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