Council Democrats Rebel Against Ecker's Layoff Plan

April 14, 1991|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff writer

County Council Democrats, frustrated that Republican County Executive Charles I. Ecker did not use an employee furlough bill as they had intended, said this week they may move to reconsider the bill Monday and vote it down.

Ecker told the council last Thursday he planned to lay off county workers -- "less than 100," he said; "40 to 50," others say -- rather than furlough them.

Ecker said he still needs the furlough bill for emergency protection. If he later finds his cost-cutting measures fall short, he couldfurlough workers.

The two Republicans on the council didn't like the furlough idea from the beginning; they voted against it April 1. But the three council Democrats passed the measure in hopes that Ecker would substitute furloughs for layoffs. The county budget office said a furlough of the county's 1,700 non-school employees could save $200,000 a day.

The bill was necessary because county law does not allow furloughs.

Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, said thatif Ecker changes his mind before Monday night and substitutes furloughs for layoffs in the fiscal 1992 budget, the bill would not be reconsidered.

The council will conduct a legislative session Monday night.

Council rules say that if a bill is to be reconsidered, it must be done at the session immediately following the one at which it was approved.

The passage of Ecker's furlough bill was "an extraordinary measure to deal with an extraordinary fiscal problem," Gray said. "But if he is not using this extraordinary measure, then it shouldnot stay in at this point. He can submit a request to the council later on an emergency basis, if need be."

Paul Farragut, D-4th, agrees.

Ecker "asked us to provide (furlough) authority and now is asking us to amend the bill because the way it was passed didn't quite suit him," Farragut said. "If he wants to come back at later date, fine. Come on back and be serious about implementing the bill, and we'llconsider it."

Ecker told council members at his meeting with themlast week that although he planned to sign the furlough bill, he wants to senddown several amendments to allow department heads and employees the flexibility to determine the best time for furloughs.

Notevery employee can be furloughed, Ecker said. Those who can might prefer to take several days at once or combine a Monday or Friday with a weekend. The furlough bill now requires the administration to give employees 30 days notice prior to being furloughedand says they must be furloughed for full days only.

Council member Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, said Ecker's failure to use the furlough bill as the councilintended is a case of "I told you so."

"I wanted to table this and the other (employee salary-related) bills so we could have some leverage in budget negotiations," she said. "That's not possible now. The clear message is that (Ecker) didn't care what we thought. He's going to do it his way.

"I don't want this to become a message contest at the expense of the employees," she said. "I'm not sure he understands how low people are feeling. Employee morale is so low it can only go up from here."

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