When we caught wind of a new legislative package that would prevent local units of government from enacting minimum staffing requirements, we were ready to cue up the traditional anti-Lansing rant about letting local officials make important management decisions for themselves, and throw in some curses against state lawmakers for yet another unnecessary swipe at organized labor/collective bargaining. However, upon review and reflection, the recently introduced Senate bills would actually liberate local officials by ensuring they have leeway to either maintain or repudiate certain minimum staffing requirements, depending on their individual communities’ needs, means and desires. That’s good enough reason to urge lawmakers to support the package.
Local governments would couldn’t adopt a charter, ordinance or resolution that would enact a minimum staffing requirement under legislation that has received the blessing of the state Senate and now heads to the state House.
Senate Bills (SBs) 485-492 would prohibit minimum staffing requirements for cities, counties, villages, and townships. Each bill applies to a different form of local government. SB 488 was introduced by state Sen. David Robertson (R-Waterford).
The legislation has been amended to grandfather into compliance any existing charters, ordinances or policies involving minimum staffing levels. Any community that currently has minimum staffing benchmarks would be unaffected by the bills, according to Robertson.
A legislative analysis of the package states the bills specify that any such provision adopted on or after the effective date of the legislation would be void and unenforceable. However, the bills specify that these provisions wouldn’t apply to the adoption of a resolution involving a collective bargaining agreement. Furthermore, the bills wouldn’t prohibit a local unit from maintaining the number of staff who might otherwise be employed under such a provision.
Robertson and state Sen. Mike Kowall (R-Commerce, Highland, Milford, Walled Lake, Wixom, Wolverine Lake, White Lake, Orchard Lake, West Bloomfield) voted in favor of the bills, which were scheduled for a hearing before the House Local, Intergovernmental, and Regional Affairs Committee yesterday, Tuesday, June 28.
In this era of depressed revenue streams, it’s hardly the time to tie local officials hands via new mandatory minimum staffing levels.
Ordinarily we’re not big fans of dictates enacted in Lansing and forced upon local governments, which almost always amounts to a withering of the home-rule concept. Yet, this legislative package is an exception, in part because it involves municipal charters. As such, members of the public or labor groups could embark on a petition drive to place a proposed charter provision setting minimum staffing levels, even if local elected officials don’t have the financial means to support such staffing levels.
While it’s certainly not the fault of local government employees that municipal revenues are declining — and are expected to keep falling for the next few years — and we don’t relish the thought of public employees losing their jobs, minimum staffing levels pose some very real and significant problems.
Kowall points to Pontiac as an example, noting the city has minimum staffing levels built into its charter, which has played a role in the city’s fiscal meltdown. Need another? The city of Detroit has long held onto various job protection and security measures. We’re confident no local government wants to tread down the budget path Pontiac and Detroit are now traveling.
Local governments have had to cut back on expenditures for several years now, and will have to keep it up to maintain balanced budgets as required by law. Preserving services as much as possible has to be the priority, not keeping people employed. Minimum staffing levels shackle local officials’ wrists at budget time, precisely when they need the flexibility to make decisions enabling the municipal government to live within its means — just like every individual, household, and business in this state.
Warding off new staffing requirements will help local governments reduce expenditures by avoiding a point where they would be bound by a minimum staffing requirement that’s above and beyond what the local unit wishes to or can maintain. It also ensures that future elected officials who may face different conditions and/or needs will be free to manage the local government as they see fit based on the conditions and needs of their time in office.
Because the bills’ provisions wouldn’t apply to adoption of a resolution involving a collective bargaining agreement, local elected officials who wish to and can afford to enter a labor pact including minimum staffing levels would be free to do so. In addition, there’s nothing in the bills preventing local officials from informally maintaining minimum staffing levels.
Lawmakers serving in the state House should grant final approval to the legislation, which will ensure management decisions can be made by the people elected to manage.