The City Council makes a move to be included in layoff discussions
November 20, 2008
Hartford City Councilman Pedro Segarra means business. The chair of the budget committee agreed last week to delay a vote on 10 resolutions he advanced in response to the city's financial crisis until the next council meeting on Nov. 24. But Segarra made it clear he's not prepared to wait beyond that meeting.
"The reality is I want action at the next council meeting," said Segarra. "I think anyone who is not ready to debate this [issue] at this point should not be on this council."
The city recently laid off 56 workers in response to a deficit that could grow to $40 million next year. More layoffs could be in the offing. But Segarra is calling for suspending any further staff cuts until the Perez administration shares with the council a "clear plan" and "legal rationale" for the layoffs. He also calls for the council to approve any future layoffs.
Among Segarra's other resolutions is a freeze on all new equipment and vehicle purchases "except as required by law"; an immediate hold on all capital improvement projects that would increase the city's debt; an immediate hiring freeze that could only be broken with the approval of seven of the nine members of the City Council; and the formation of an ad-hoc committee with members from the council and the unions to work with Mayor Eddie Perez on finding ways to stabilize the city's finances.
Segarra said he was willing to postpone the debate on his resolutions because City Council President Calixto Torres and Majority Leader rJo Winch were absent from last week's meeting.
"This is probably the worst financial crisis this city has faced in decades," said Segarra. "I'm willing to defer one council meeting for the leadership to be here because the debate should take place with leadership here."
Several of Segarra's resolutions were aimed directly at Perez, including one that calls for an "immediate cessation of violations of the Hartford Municipal Charter and/or Code as they relate to provision requiring a balanced budget and providing reports to the City Council."
Councilman Matt Ritter said the resolution addressed Perez's failure to report on the budget to the City Council.
"There's a provision in the Charter that by September 15 the mayor is supposed to give us a financial update," said Ritter. "The mayor did not do that. That's not to say that it was willful, but it was not done."
Ritter said the council has been given quarterly reports on the budget, but that they lacked detailed information.
As for Segarra's resolutions that the City Council be involved in any future layoffs, Ritter said no one is arguing the mayor doesn't have the "inherent authority" to lay people off.
"What the council is trying to say is, 'You have that ability but we want to make it a more collaborative process,'" said Ritter.
It's essential for the City Council to be privy to layoffs, said Ritter, because it is the body ultimately responsible for the budget. And, he said, if the city lays off too many workers in Public Works and the snow doesn't get removed from city streets, the council will hear about it at the public hearing on the budget in April.
"We want to make sure layoffs are consistent with the numbers and also public policy," said Ritter. "That's where [Segarra] and I agree completely. You can't lay people off and not tell us."