An interesting debate resurfaced this week at City Hall regarding the ongoing union contract talks between the Ocean City Mayor and Council and the city’s respective bargaining units.
Since we are in the information dissemination business, we feel nothing should take place in private if it involves taxpayer dollars in any way. However, we understand that’s never going to happen. Certain deliberations over personnel contracts, land acquisitions and disciplinary actions will and should always be covert in nature. However, there’s a difference between conducting private business in public and keeping the citizens in the dark about important affairs.
The public has a desire for information, particularly anything that could impact how much money they have to pay in taxes and fees. Clearly, these union contract deliberations will have a major impact on taxes and spending for years to come.
That’s why this week’s request, first by former Councilman Joe Hall and then again by Councilman Brent Ashley, is worthy of consideration.
“You’re not legally obligated to do this behind closed doors,” Joe Hall said. “I believe engaging the voters and the taxpayers in the process will allow the people who are going to pay the bill to be involved. I encourage you to do the best for the taxpayer as you possible can.”
In response to Joe Hall and Ashley, Council President Lloyd Martin said it would be unfortunate at this point to bring the talks for public consumption since most of the deliberations are nearly complete.
We understand both sides here, and we hope the comments are considered when the next contract negotiations are taking place.
At this point, what we have been able to determine is the police and firefighter/paramedics unions are each getting closer to deals with the city after initially being far apart in their desires. It appears raises are a given for the Town of Ocean City’s employees, most of who have gone at least four years without any sort of salary adjustment. Exactly how much more of an increase employees will be receiving is not known, as is whether it will be the same for the non-union employees and those who are organized.
The big issue reportedly during these contract deliberations has to do with the pension. There are some who want the former system that was changed two years ago for new hires to be restored and that has been a subject of much discourse in recent months.
In the future, it would be wise of the Ocean City Mayor and Council to provide updates at its meetings about how contract negotiations are going with the two unions. It would not have to be proprietary in nature and the public report could be agreed upon by both sides prior to statements being read. Ideally, public statements could be released from the city as well as the unions to keep the public in the loop.
The public does not need to know all the specifics and details of the ongoing talks, but a few general reports throughout the process on how far apart the sides are and what the key issues are could go a long way in alleviating fears and keeping the rumor mill in a lower gear than it’s presenting churning at.