Dozens of workers and their family members attended Tuesday’s marathon Norman City Council meeting to let the city’s leaders see the faces of those who were told they wouldn’t have a job come July.
They had to wait through one of the longest council meetings in the last eight months to speak, but they did speak.
With his daughter and his wife sitting in the audience for more than fours hours, Phillip Brooks told the council about how the job cuts would affect his family. He said the city’s decision to eliminate his job will “take food off our table” and put a serious dent in the couple’s plans to move out onto the land they recently purchased, among other things.
Brooks, who has worked in the Parks and Recreation Department for about four years, seemed to be particularly displeased with city leaders’ proposed job cuts after all the hard work employees put in during the recent winter storm season.
“I wasn’t able to spend Christmas Eve with my family like some of y’all,” Brooks said of his work during the Dec. 24 snowstorm, which left people stranded all over the city. “I was out on I-35 in three feet of snow digging people out.”
The fact that city leaders publicly thanked workers in January for their work during the Christmas Eve blizzard but were now cutting some of their jobs didn’t sit right with him, or his coworkers, Brooks said.
“I don’t feel like I’m appreciated,” he said. “I feel like I’m disposable.”
Brooks said city management never told workers the extent of the budget crisis in person and that he felt blind-sided by the news his position was among those deemed expendable.
“We didn’t hear about it,” he said. “We were never told.”
Brooks said the first time he heard about the budget crisis was April 16, the day he was told his job would be cut.
Mark Mitchell, a city employee and self-described “laborer,” called for more pointed job cuts. He also compared city leaders to parents and rank-and-file workers to children who await orders from their superiors.
“You all control the money,” Mitchell said during the public comment portion of the meeting. “If you want to lay some people off, lay off management … they’re the ones who spent it.”
Henry Baskeyfield, president of the union that represents many of the city’s non-uniformed workers, also spoke during the meeting, suggesting city management cut funding to a lobbyist ($123,000) and the Oklahoma Municipal League ($75,000) for at least the next fiscal year.
“If we come up with any ideas, we’ll let you know,” Baskeyfield said to council.
Most council members expressed concern for the workers affected and told them how bad they feel about it, but little else.
Councilman Doug Cubberley was blunt, saying that painful cuts are likely and that “the media” did a poor job informing city workers about the financial condition of the city itself.
“The reality of this budget is very evident,” Cubberley said, not ruling out job cuts.
Councilman Tom Kovach, who asked for jobs to be saved during a recent budget study session, offered a solution during Tuesday’s council meeting. Citing vague bond language, he said there are millions in Public Safety Sales Tax funds available — some of which may be used to save jobs and prevent proposed cuts.
Kovach also said the city needs to look at its employees in a different light.
“Having a trained staff is an incredible asset,” he said. “I think we have to focus on employees being an asset, not a liability.”
Councilman Hal Ezzell agreed with Kovach about the PSST funds.
“There are options,” Ezzell said. “There are tools in the tool box.”
On April 16, two dozen city workers were told that June 3 would be their last day on the job and the city announced it would freeze an additional 12 positions that are currently vacant. A furlough program, which would force all city employees to take 12 days off per year without pay, was also announced.
The proposed job cuts and furlough days are expected to save the city about $4 million next fiscal year, which would go a long way toward filling a budget shortfall that’s now expected to be well into the millions.
Andrew Knittle 366-3540 email@example.com