Furlough dispute ends with a sharp exchange

Elkhart's furlough dispute has been resolved, but not before a terse exchange between the mayor and a city council member.
Posted on March 5, 2013 at 12:00 a.m. | Updated on March 5, 2013 at 6:15 p.m.

ELKHART — City council has ended the furlough dispute and voted to fully fund city workers.

But not before a few terse words of frustration from Mayor Dick Moore.

The vote Monday night, March 4, came after city officials learned the state board of accounts concluded the city had acted correctly in transferring money at the end of the year.

Councilman David Henke had sought a ruling from the state, claiming Moore’s administration was not following city ordinance outlining how remaining money from the end of the year should be transferred.

The 2004 rainy day fund ordinance requires the city move all unspent funds from the year to the rainy day fund. Moore argued the ordinance is unworkable because it would leave departments with no money to operate during the first few weeks of the new year.

The city has traditionally just rolled the funds over to the same accounts for the new year and has followed that practice for years despite the rainy day ordinance.

Henke’s inquiry held up efforts to approve the spending of leftover 2012 funds by the city council to cover the portion of city employee salaries left short by the now-defunct furlough plan.

The city had budgeted for a series of furloughs for all city workers in 2013, but Moore announced those measures would not be necessary after city officials realized they had enough leftover money from 2012 to cover the additional salaries.

The council voted 8-1 on Monday to provide money to overcome the furloughs. A second funding request to provide money for a police officer and a firefighter position left empty for 2013 was also OK’d. The second request, though, was approved 5-4 on party lines.

The action came after the finance committee sent both recommendations back to the council earlier Monday evening.

According to an email provided by Moore’s office, a spokesman for the state board of account told city officials, “Based on our review, we feel that the controller is probably correct. The ordinance would need to be amended if the transfers were to be handled the way councilman Henke thinks it should be handled.”

During the finance committee meeting, Henke and council member Mary Olson took exception to the word “probably” and wanted to seek more information.

Olson then said there was no urgency to approve the funds.

That’s when frustrations boiled over for Moore who had waited nearly two months to see the request approved. He disagreed with suggestions that finances for the city were poorly anticipated.

As soon as city officials knew the money would be available, the city adjusted plans, Moore said.

What ensued was an exchange between Moore and Henke, with both men raising their voices.

Moore then directed his criticism at Olson.

“I’ve just about had enough of that. Either tell it like it is …” Moore said before being interrupted by Henke who noted that such language was unacceptable.

“I’ve been listening to you talk to me like that for the last five years,” Moore told Henke.

“A level of respect would get you a long way,” Henke said. “If you need some tutelage, I’ll provide that.”

Both sides calmed down and Olson added that she has always sought to respect the mayor’s office.

“I’m surprised at your rhetoric,” Olson said. “I believe you are a better man than that.”

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