Nice Work if You Can Get It

By: Kathy Runge – Dec. 2017

The city election has come and gone and not much has changed. Mayor Rivera is happy thinking that most of the voters preferred him. We have the usual murders and mayhem. I was surprised by the number of people who came out and said they only voted for Rivera because the other choice was Lantigua.

Did you notice people sneaking onto your porch in the middle of the night in October and the beginning of November? Don’t worry, it was just campaign workers doing midnight literature drops. You should see less late night trespassing in the foreseeable future. There should be a law against this.

Frankly, if one of the literature droppers got shot it would have been their own fault.

During the last year, Mayor Rivera has been giving back slaps and high fives to his administration for giving workers in city unions absolutely the least amount possible in their new contracts, and taking benefits away if they could. But it seems that one group of city employees are getting benefits in a very timely fashion.

The workers at the library used to have 75% tuition reimbursement for classes taken towards a Masters in Library Science but, according to my sources, that benefit was removed a few years ago and hadn’t been reinstated.

The library operates under a board of trustees consisting of the mayor, three trustees of the White Fund, and five residents appointed by the mayor. The mayor’s chief of staff, Eileen Bernal, is on the board, as well as at least one other ardent supporter.
After the trustees replaced Acting Director Kemal Bozkurt with mayoral office transplant Jessica Valentin, who needs a master’s degree to become qualified for the position, it seems employees at the library will be getting educational reimbursements again.

On September 28th, two days after the primary, two union positions at the library were posted. Educational benefits were listed. The agenda for the October 25th meeting of the library trustees contains tuition reimbursement as new business.

The city has to give all library employees this benefit in order for Ms. Valentin to receive it. The city ordinance establishing the position of Library Director states “The library director shall be entitled to all other benefits which other employees in the administrative service of the city receive, and subject to the approval of the library trustees, educational assistance and differentials which other library employees receive.”

Even though the trustees operate the library, its employees are city employees and their benefits are paid for by the city. The probable legal expenses associated with the recent questionable firing of Bozkurt will also be paid for by the city. Are the taxpayers hostage to the Library Board of Trustees?
I realize that one of the purposes of having the library run by trustees was probably to make it a less political institution. That’s backfired in a spectacular way.

In other post-election hires, Mayor Rivera rehired his friend, campaign worker, and previous unqualified hire, ex-City Engineer Theodoro Rosario for the DPW position of Supervisor of Projects and Planning.

Councilor Maldonado posed questions about the re-funding of this position, which was not funded in FY17, during the FY18 budget approval process. Mayor Rivera stated that the position had been left vacant due to current and on-going litigation. The job was vacant for over two years. This is a position established by ordinance.

City ordinances state that “Any position established by an ordinance duly adopted by the city council that remains vacant, unfilled, or unoccupied for more than six continuous months shall not be readvertised, reposted and/or refilled without approval by the city council. Prior to issuing permission to readvertise, repost, and refill such a position, the city council shall review and approve the job description, rate of pay, and benefits applicable to the position.”

There’s a new DPW position being ordinanced as we speak, Capital Asset Project Manager. It sounds like a reworking of an existing unfilled position, Projects and Planning Manager, one step above Rosario’s and with better pay.
I’m sure the mayor has the perfect candidate in mind for it, no need for the personnel department to do any work except fudge their candidate rankings so the “best” candidate gets the job. Other lawsuits at city hall are brewing, I hear the mayor has perfect candidates for some positions that happen to be currently occupied.

Since Lawrence has no pressing problems, the Mayor can devote his time to seeing his favorite people get the jobs and benefits he thinks they deserve. Yes, it’s nice work if you can get it.

Merry Christmas and have a Happy New Year.