Archived Story

Big difference lies between ‘can,’ ‘should’

Published 12:00am Sunday, August 26, 2012

No one seems to know exactly what would happen if a local government entity stood up to a judge who court ordered a budget change that many, including us, simply believe is not fair to taxpayers.

The Ironton City Council should find out.

At a time when the city’s government is continuing to struggle with dwindling revenue and ever-increasing operating expenses, Ironton Municipal Court Judge O. Clark Collins issued a court order to reallocate funds that would wipe away, for his employees only, the concessions which other non-union city personnel face.

Critics may argue the judge’s request is only to move $20,000 — small change in the multimillion-dollar city budget — that comes from a fund supported by fines and fees generated through the court. But the principle behind the mandate is what raises concerns.

For the judge to do this simply because he can is a slap in the face to the other employees who aren’t fortunate enough to work in a department that seemingly can mandate its own budget, to the unions who have either made concessions or suffered layoffs and to the taxpayers who are asked continually to contribute more money primarily to sustain employee benefit packages out of touch with reality, particularly when compared to private sector benefits.

It also greatly harms the city’s ability to seek concessions in ongoing negotiations with two of its unions.

We appreciate the fact Collins operates his court efficiently and has held his general fund needs relatively consistent from year to year.

But this request sends the wrong message at the wrong time and should be rescinded.

The judge justified this increase, in part, because his employees are taking on more duties and working with fewer people.

So are the rest of city’s employees. So is pretty much the rest of the American workforce.

No one is disputing that the court employees do a good job. They likely do deserve raises, as do most of the city’s employees. But now simply isn’t the time.

Although it can be argued that the municipal court is mostly self sufficient, it still receives money from the city’s general fund each year. It could be generating revenue to offset other city needs.

The court cannot be allowed to play by a different set of rules than the rest of the city’s departments, as it has for years.

That has to stop now.

Yes, the law says judges can court order their budgets, and Collins can technically hold the council in contempt of court, tossing them into jail until an appeals court hears the case.

But that doesn’t mean he will and the ability on paper certainly doesn’t make it right.

City council has a chance to send a message that it is serious about changing the way Ironton’s government operates, fighting for fairness for all employees and all taxpayers and standing up against a state system clearly flawed.


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