Put a tea-party lovin', gun-totin' Republican hack in the mayor's office one minute, find yourself in the bizarro world the next.
Wait, that was last month. The embarrassment du jour would be Omaha budgetary politics right out of the Black September playbook -- the municipal policymaking version of Munich 1972. All we needed on the news tonight -- and there's still a bit of time as I type this -- is an undead Jim McKay at the anchor desk and a military operation gone horribly bad at Eppley Airfield.
First, the setup: Omaha's former mayor, Jim Suttle, negotiates a new contract with the firefighters union aimed at ending the practice of pension-spiking, where you can work a bunch of overtime, get your salary as high as you can, and then retire with astronomical benefits pegged to that astronomical salary. That's the quick-and-dirty version, granted, but that's basically it.
The practice was fast sinking the city's pension fund, and it had to stop before the city quite literally ended up bankrupt -- and relatively soon, at that.
So, Suttle -- defeated by then-councilwoman Jean Stothert in this spring's mayoral election -- pretty much put an end to that, as had been done when the police contract came up for renewal previously. But the city council, with Stothert leading the charge, rejected that deal as too costly.
Then the council, with Stothert again leading the charge, strips Suttle of his contract-negotiating authority and reserves that job for itself. And then the council, again with Stothert in a leadership role, negotiates a new deal that Suttle warns really will bust the budget before signing the ratified deal in a total "I give up" moment.
Fast forward to this summer and the start of the budget process. The city is facing a sizable deficit -- mainly due to big projected overruns in the fire department budget. The fire chief, Mike McDonnell, says it's due to costs locked in by the new labor contract but Stothert, in effect, says it's because McDonnell is a twit and, furthermore, I'm going to cut the crap out of your budget, lay off all the new recruits and take an ambulance and some rigs out of service . . . and, by the way, why haven't you quit yet?
OH . . . this may have had something to do with Her Honor's attitude toward the chief and the fired, er, fire department:
McDonnell has sought a roughly $94 million budget, which he said was necessary to avoid cuts. That included a $150,000 to pay University of Nebraska Medical Center consultants who supervise the department's emergency medical service. Those consultants replaced Stothert's husband, Dr. Joe Stothert after he was dismissed by McDonnell and Mayor Jim Suttle's administration.HERE'S some more of how the Omaha World-Herald is reporting the story tonight:
An exit package brokered Monday between Mayor Jean Stothert's administration and the embattled fire chief carries considerable financial implications.
The agreement protects current department staff from layoffs through next July 1 and gives McDonnell a full pension, more than a year before he qualifies for it.
The agreement also keeps all existing fire equipment in service through next July 1, with the exception of a medic unit based in South Omaha. .
McDonnell said the deal means Stothert needs to add about $2 million to the Fire Department budget. The mayor, however, said no additional funds were needed. Stothert said she expected the department budget to pass Tuesday.
McDonnell will receive a $10,900 monthly pension. He said that is about $900 more than he qualifies for with his 23 years and 10 months of service.
“These changes are in the best interest of the City of Omaha and will move the Fire Department ahead in a positive manner,” Stothert said in a statement.
Said McDonnell: “It was an honor to serve the city.”
(snip)AND HERE'S the kicker: Stothert is refusing to apply for federal grant money specifically made available to fire departments for maintaining present staffing or even increasing it to better meet National Fire Protection Association standards.
McDonnell's departure comes as the City Council prepares to vote Tuesday on Stothert's proposed 2014 budget.
The exit agreement, signed by Stothert and McDonnell, must be codified into a legally binding contract by Friday or else it is void.
The chief gets credit for 25 years of service and a retirement ceremony. The city will pay his share of his pension contribution through October 2014.
The agreement includes a “joint non-disparagement” clause until next July 1.
The city will maintain three of its four assistant chief positions through 2014. A fourth chief will retire this October.
McDonnell held a small press conference just before 7 p.m. Monday at headquarters in front of a city fire engine. He had already packed his city-issued SUV with personal effects and memorabilia.
He will be placed on paid administrative leave for the immediate future.
Stothert has made it clear since her mayoral campaign that she wanted McDonnell out.
Efforts to negotiate his future have been discussed intermittently for several weeks.
The two have been at odds over the mayor's proposed $90.6 million Fire Department budget, which could have forced layoffs, demotions and pulling firetrucks and ambulances from service.
Refusing to apply. Refusing to even try to avoid layoffs, unless. . . .
Hardball negotiating is one thing. Holding firefighters hostage to get the chief to retire is the stuff of political terrorism. Obviously, Omaha's new mayor has been taking pointers from congressional Republicans.
The only difference between Abu Packin' and Palestinian terrorists from back in the day is in the degree of her actions, not the principle behind them. It's just a matter of firing a hostage an hour until you meet my demands instead of killing an Israeli an hour until you meet my demands.
What matters to Stothert isn't the firefighters -- or public safety. What matters to Stothert isn't even balancing the budget in a sensible way. What matters to this doctrinaire GOP hack is ideology, sucking up to her right flank . . . and revenge.
How very Black September of her. Right down to this expertly placed shiv in the back, as reported by KETV television:
McDonnell said in order to fund those positions, the City Council would have to add $2 million to the fire department's budget, but the mayor's office said the budget will go before the council Tuesday at the proposed $90.6 million.
The mayor expects the new chief to achieve both the saving and the job protection within the proposed budget.
Except for running a city in an adult, competent manner, I mean.