consultants are sandburs

Thursday, February 28, 2013

I will post on a consistency question before anybody confronts me. Call it a preemptive stike. Drone free. Words only.

I have posted advocating City of Ramsey terminate the Landform contract, with an eye to disavowing future payments based on the unlicensed broker argument others first advanced. That the argument should weigh in settlement discussions so that the contract is ended in ways both sides might agree to but which would be swayed by the unlicensed brokerage question. The ultimate goal and responsibility being to save taxpayer money that arguably need not be spent.

I have posted against the County Board using the argument of saving taxpayer money by rescinding a 23 year old dedication to the policy of paying workers prevailing wages.

Surely argument can be made of differences in the situation, even with each argued as justified for being in the interest of taxpayers by curbing spending. One contract was a long running thing instigated in ways short of presenting the best notice to Ramsey's own council, back when Look was on council and Bob Ramsey was mayor, but not as long tenured as Look, and where Darren Lazan first approached City of Ramsey with Republican office-holder Jungbauer on the Landform payroll. Later it evolved to Lazan and Look co-owning an aircraft that had belonged to Jungbauer. Rather than the term cronyism, the term "personal friendships" outside of formal dealings were a factor.

And Lazan had bargaining power in his situation. No question he was, however it happened, empowered to get a sweet deal for a long time. Monthly money was paid out for quite some time without any accountings of how it was spent being required by the city. Five figure monthly money.

Ordinary workers only have bargaining power of any kind when organized. Like it or love it. One can say skilled trades, and skill and work ethic levels do vary, with local contractors often wanting to keep a skilled crew intact even in hard times. Yet tradesmen are more interchangeable, based on willingness of some to work hard for less due to pressing circumstances, than someone consulting such as Lazan or Elwyn Tinklenberg. Prevailing wage is enacted in realization of this, and as an expression of policy that government should not low-ball generally powerless workers to nickle and dime things - that the general electorate, taxpayers, would prefer prevailing wage, were it put to a referendum. Short of that, those who repealed county prevailing wage policy will be up for reelection, a referendum of a sort. The one I can vote against, I shall vote against. People make such decisions for themselves, so leave it there.

The terms "living wage" and "prevailing wage" are sometimes used interchangeably by union officials, but it seems that unions suffer a disbelief that they have any duty of solidarity with unorganized workforce members. They tend to be myopic, policy-wise, that way.

There will be a response, unions support minimum wage increases, and in Minnesota now with the DFL controlling each house and the executive, the wonder is what's taking them so long and why is the number suggested so low. The gulf between the suggested increased minimum wage, and the prevailing wages the unions are quick and vigorous to protect, is substantial - a "living wage" in one instance being less a "living wage" for the other non-organized workforce member.

The term "prevailing wage" is the more honest one, and the "living wage" rhetoric has holes you can easily see through; and as such may be counterproductive. Bottom line, unions should avoid the myopia so that when their feet are put to the fire others will think of solidarity between any who have to earn a wage to survive.

Wisconsin shows an insufficient solidarity that way, given their governor's lust for union bashing and insufficient general public sympathy for the union people getting bashed.

A view I have of government, some may share it or not, is that a key role of government, if not the singularly most important role, is to protect the poor and powerless from the rich, powerful, and rapacious. Surely some rich and powerful people are well-manered, and not rapacious and exploitative, but others are not so decent, with protection needed. Indeed, government with its securities laws and other regulatory activity clearly must also protect the rich from each other, where one rich person's wealth is not fair game for another with the Petters level of rapacious ethics, regarding money there of another as fair game to poach or misuse or waste.

Respect for collective bargaining power is essential in protecting the generally powerless individual in our world where money rules and some worship the market to the point of denying that an unregulated market by its nature is an oscillating disequilibrium thing where government can work to dampen the swings from boom to bust. Advocates of a "free-market" as unconstrained by any law or policy ignore the inefficiencies and hardships of boom-bust cycling. Sounder minds have prevailed.

Back to all politics being local - In general I believe Darren Lazan's situation, and the prevailing wage questions present an "apples and oranges" thing where strict adherence to a "taxpayers save" justification ignores key differences.

Beyond that, other things factor into judgment.

The county thing is more a symbolic poke with a pencil into the eye of union labor than anything else because the county funds few projects of its own not entailing use of state or federal money as part of the sugar. So the Board did its symbolic union attack simply because the majority on the Board wanted to, and not because of any great and demonstrable savings being attained. It was simply to insult rather than work together. Ill grounded, and petty.

Then - there is how it was done.

Three things strike me as similar, and each in the category because of procedure. Because of a disrespect for proper ways and means and notice and rights of members of the public to be aware, and to confront and argue.

First, the intial Landform contracting.

Dehen and Jeffrey made their case of having been sandbagged.

Second, the insinuation of an attack against Kurt Ulrich's job via a short notice agenda thing, in Ramsey. A coup attempt of a sort. Same scenario. Except people noticed and showed up and the coup failed by one vote.

Third, the near identical tactic at the County Board level. Rescinding a decades old policy without decent regard for the norms of notice and the right of citizens to confront and debate the actions of representatives.

Kordiak and LeDoux make the case in this recent instance for how they too were sandbagged.

In each of the three cases it appeared to be high-handedness and disregard for the general decencies of serving as a representative in the most ethical way feasible with regard to the public's rights to be informed in advance, to have notice and open meetings and a chance to confront and enlighten decisions before they become made in relative darkness. My opinion - freely given for what it is worth - is such steps are disdainful of proprieties, and while there may be a tactical immediate advantage, if successful and not losing by one vote, long term such practices undermine trust in government and result in citizens holding a belief that their representatives will not fully respect their collective rights, as citizens, in ways free of caprice and finagling.

That entire gutting of the prevailing wage policy was finagled, no doubt about that. The initial approach of Landform into a favorable contract situation was finagled, and along with the surprise attack against Ramsey's city administrator all need not have been handled as distastefully as they were.

Open meeting law and the requirement that government be subject to sunshine as the best disinfectant, as Justice Brandeis wrote in 1914, are necessary, to the need to have citizen respect for government and the rule of law. Procedural safeguards do not exist for the sport of circumvention. They exist because past wisdom knows them to be best.

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