Sunday, November 13, 2016

Civil Service and the Fire Union

You may have noticed at the early polling places that the fire union, APFF was asking citizens to sign their petition.  They may have explained the reason in terms of better hiring practices, etc.  So let me go into some things that they didn’t tell you.

The only reason that the fire union has this petition is to get Civil Service on the ballot in May.  The only reason they want Civil Service is because the union and the Fire Chief don’t get along.  If different people were in these positions, Civil Service wouldn’t be on the ballot.  This issue has been on the ballot twice before and was soundly defeated in 1979 and in 1991.  In both instances the margin was 65% against and 35% for. 

Civil Service allows promotions to be accomplished by testing only.  Highest score gets promoted.  There is no interview process, and personal skills are disregarded altogether.  A disciplinary problem is handled by a board of civilians, not fireman.  The board will be appointed, and a Civil Service Director will be hired, with taxpayer dollars, to run the process.   Currently we use a neutral arbitration process.  Since 2007 there have been 59 arbitrations, 47 police, 8 fire, and 4 civilian.  The current Chief has only been involved in 3 such arbitrations. The process works very well because only 4 decisions have been overturned in the last 9 years.  One was in the fire department.

During the last two years housing values have risen.  This increase has allowed the city to give much needed raises to our staff.  In this instance the firemen have received the biggest slice of the pie and their respective pay checks have risen above those of commensurate positions in other cities.  This apparently is not enough.  They want the Chief replaced.  So the Council has given the firefighters a good job, in a good city, with a very nice wage, allowing them a very nice standard of living, while only requiring a high school degree.  The Council has been sympathetic to the union in the past.  We responded to the publishing of “The Book” by accomplishing an audit.  The Chief was exonerated.  Then a survey was ordered by Council.  The Chief responded to the results, but the union did not.  Now it is Civil Service that the union wants.  This is a slap in the face to the Council.  If Civil Service is established  the following will happen:

  1.  All firefighters in the same civil service classification will be entitled to the same base pay.  Any additional pay will be at the behest of the City Council.
  2. Longevity or Seniority pay will be removed.
  3. No 401K.
  4. Assignment pay will be removed.
  5. Educational and fitness pay will be removed.
  6. Shift differential pay will be removed.
  7. Swing pay will be removed.
  8. 15 days of sick leave will be allowed each year.  A 90 day maximum lump, can be paid upon retirement.  (Previously 180 days)
  9. 15 days of vacation each year is allotted.  No carry over is allowed from year to year.
  10. No allocation of pay for union business.

All of the above have been granted in the past by Council.  I for one will not be voting to reinstate any of them.  If the union wants civil service then that is what they will get, not a hybrid of the current philosophy and civil service.  If the union has a problem with their Chief it should be resolved in house and not put on display to the citizens.  If they can’t live with the result of having the current Chief in his position, then there are other fire departments all over the Metroplex that you can transfer to.  For a union to be so concerned about W-2, it would seem that with this move power is the real motivator, and if it costs dollars to its members so be it.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Facts on Arlington’s Ballpark Vote

When considering a vote for a new Rangers ballpark in Arlington, it would be refreshing to stand on level ground and consider some facts, instead of beliefs that are unsubstantiated.

  1. Dallas Mayor Rawlings has had substantive talks with the Rangers concerning a move to Dallas.
  2. Dallas has most of the regional TV stations, Sports Talk Radio Stations, and the Dallas Morning News to use as media platforms in support of moving the team to Dallas.
  3. Two such entities, WFAA and the Dallas Morning News, currently are on sites for a proposed new ballpark in Dallas. They are conflicted and biased in their reporting.  i.e.  Brett Shipp
  4. Dallas currently has $200-$300 mil for the renovation of their Convention Center that could be diverted to a new ballpark without a vote of Dallas citizens.
  5. John Crawford, the CEO of Downtown Dallas Inc., is affiliated with The Hunt Corporation.  Ray Hunt has reliefs of a new ballpark in his office and is the driving financial force in moving the Rangers to Dallas.  Mr. Crawford is Hunt’s financial emissary capable of motivating Dallas interests and rallying additional funds to support this effort.

The movement to Dallas and the bias in the media are substantiated.  So let’s tell some truths about the Arlington deal.

  1. The ½ cent sales tax, along with the parking and ticket tax, are currently being used to fund AT&T Stadium.  The voters will be deciding if they want to extend the current taxes to purchase a new domed ballpark that is capped by the City at $500 mil.
  2. A survey was accomplished by H. R. & A. from Dallas, concerning the economic impact that the Rangers have on the City of Arlington.  The report stated that the City benefits $77.5 mil. annually by having the Rangers in Arlington.
  3. Another survey, from Longwood Travel, Inc. in L.A., stated that the City had 14 mil. visitors in 2015, spending approximately $1.4 billion in the City of Arlington.  Moving the Rangers would be a very significant financial loss to our City.
  4. The third independent study was performed by VISA credit cards.  It confirmed that only 48% of Arlington’s sales taxes are paid by citizens within Arlington zip codes.  
  5. Arlington’s sales tax (.80) and property tax (.64) rates are the lowest tax rates of any city in the Metroplex, due in part by our partners in the entertainment district.
  6. The last survey was done by Money Magazine, out of NY, selecting Arlington, Texas as the “Best Big City” in the South to Live.
  7. Last, if you divide $500 mil. by 30 yrs. the result is $16 mil. per year. Consider that citizens only pay 48% (of local sales taxes) and you are down to $8 mil.  Remove the $2 mil. paid in rent by the Rangers each yr.  Subtract the $2.2 mil. in hotel tax and .8 mil. in rental car taxes, and Arlington residents are only paying $3 mil. per year, but are receiving $77.5 mil. in return.  This is a remarkable return on investment.

These are the facts of this issue that should be considered.  Sure, you can say that I didn’t factor interest. The reason is that I can’t tell you when the ballpark will be paid off, so let’s not muddy those waters.  These are the facts and many were brought to us by outside, unbiased organizations. Number 7 is my set of calculations. It is an easy equation to consider. But this is even easier. Vote Yes they stay, Vote No they go. So Vote Yes and Keep the Rangers in Arlington. 

Charlie Parker
Arlington City Councilman
District 1

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Professional Fire Fighters Speak Out but not the AFF

This last week I had the privilege of going to a fire station, where I encountered actual Professional Fire Fighters.   One was a union member, another was not, and a third was resigning from the union.  I went there because I wanted to educate myself on the matters that concern the claims of the union.  Although Victoria Meyer also attended with me, I can only state my observations:

  1.  Although 90% of the fire fighters pay dues to the union, very few are supportive of the leadership,  nor the direction of their union representation.  Of the six none wanted the Chief fired.  Some even think that the Chief is doing a good job, with some reservations.
  2. Although the union demands transparency from management, the rank and file was blindsided by the publishing of the “Book.” 
  3. Foremost in their minds, they believe that union leadership has a “personal vendetta” against the Chief.
  4. Lastly, they were surprised that a letter was filed with the city to start the civil service process.  Again a travesty of transparency.

I told them that as a response to the ”Book” the city took  union accusations seriously and had an audit accomplished.  Union response, “she did what Trey and the Chief told her to do.”  This is unfounded and not true.  Essentially, the chief took care of the personnel conflict, and hired fire fighters to correct the manning and overtime problems.  The other accusations contained in the “Book” were simply not true.  Secondly, the city took union claims of low morale seriously and appointed the Coleman Group to accomplish a survey.  When complete the survey had issues on both sides of the fence.  The Chief addressed each area of concern in a four page reply.  The union did not reply at all.  And lastly Councilwoman Meyer requested that a mediator be utilized, as an unbiased observer, to try and solve the union/Chief issue.  Union leadership reluctantly said that they would try.  The day before the meeting to discuss the mediator, the union files a letter to start the civil service process. 

Last Tuesday a fire fighter got up in front of Council who I respect as a person and as a professional fire fighter.  He stated that “he wanted the issue resolved.”  He also stated, “we spent $28,000 for the Coleman survey, so let’s do what Mr. Coleman told us to do.”  Although he was wearing a yellow shirt he spoke to the issue that everyone wants except the union leadership.  I don’t think that Mr. Coleman said to fire the Chief.  What he said in the survey was that until both sides want to discuss the issues, there will never be a solution.  So now the civil service process starts because this is what union leadership wants.  The line is in the sand and your union leadership has taken you across it.  As Professional Fire Fighters, are you going to follow the AFF or will you stop this train wreck that they are taking you to?  If you think civil service is the answer to your problems we will talk about that next time.   

PS:  Don't know if you all got this email so I wanted everyone to get it:

We have been made aware that Councilman Charlie Parker is currently visiting with our members at fire stations. Parker continues to be critical of us and the APFF.  He has called us "greedy" fire fighters and has discontinued using Professional when referring to the APFF because he does not believe we are.  We are asking you to record any conversations you have with Parker if he visits your station.


Friday, August 26, 2016

AFF vs. Chief Crowson

I have deleted the “P” from the APFF because I don’t believe that there is anything Professional about the Fire Fighter’s union.  I believe in our Fire Fighters and think they do an exemplary job in the service to our citizens, but I have no respect for their union officers.  Please let me explain.

Since I have been in office the AFF has been trying (unsuccessfully) to get the Chief fired.  Last year they stepped up the effort and published a book telling of the Chief’s inadequacies.  I read the book and took it for action and pointed out that the fire department was undermanned and that the overtime number was the second highest in the Metroplex, even higher than Dallas.  Half of the yearly shifts were undermanned requiring overtime.  This is a rip off, and they have been getting millions in overtime each year by not manning the department as they should.  The Chief subsequently hired 26 new fire fighters and the AFF hit the roof.  Now I know about unions since I started one at American Airlines.  We started with 17 members and now they are over 400 in membership.  Usually more members are what a union wants but not the AFF.  The Chief has saved $1.6 mil in overtime for FY16 and the AFF doesn’t like it.

So the Council took the book for action and had the City Auditor make an independent assessment of the workings of the Fire Department and I was right.  The Chief was given a clean bill of health for running his department in a stellar fashion.  But Ms. Brooks found that overtime was off the page.  The audit stated the following:

                                FY13                       FY14                       FY15         Overtime           FY13           FY14        FY15

F1                           $92,430                 $90,870                $75,173                                 $22,998   $17,445   $15,423
Fire Fighter

F2                           $95,789                 $92,490                 $83,413                                 $21,447   $15,673  $15,423

F3                           $109,414              $104,426              $91,549                                  $30,200  $17,949   $12,553

F4                           $123,818              $117,083              $91,549                                  $30,212   $15,469   $25019

F5                           $$131,119            $148,142              $119,893                              $26,985   $35,511   $23,489
Battalion Chief

So the Book backfired on the AFF and its leadership. 

Last year we gave all staff members across the board a 4% raise because we had a little extra money. 
That wasn’t enough for the AFF.  It got greedy and had to have 5.5%.  So in order to get the extra money to give to the AFF, we were forced to remove spouses from the City’s insurance plan if the spouses had another means of procuring insurance.  All 2,500 city employees were affected in some way by the greed of this union.

The relations got so bad between the AFF and the Chief that the city requested another report.  Arlington Fire Department and Feedback Report accomplished by Coleman and Associates.  What stood out to me in this 47 page report is the following comment:  “The Chief is taking all of our overtime.”  The report stated that:  “Conversations regarding overtime are directed more to concerns about a “promised” income as opposed to absolute provision of full staffing for service operations.”  In other words the overtime isn’t yours.

 So in last week’s Council meeting a number of AFF members approached the podium during citizen’s comment and stated that moral is at an all-time low due totally to the actions of Chief Crowson and the way he has been running the department.  Baloney!  Their claim is that people are leaving due to the Chief’s way of running the department.  Although we do have retirements, it is due to the W2’s not  increasing because of reduced overtime.  The retirement amount is based on W2’s. Therefore, the expectation of increased retirement amounts will not materialize, due to the realization that W2’s will not increase due to overtime reductions.  Approximately  2 fire fighters  a year are leaving  for other reasons.  This is well below the national average.  So overtime is the real reason for low morale, not the Chief’s policies.  This is proven by a new open records request dated the day after the meeting by Scott Hofstrom Vice President of the AFF.   He requests open records for 1.  AFD FY16 Overtime Budget.  2. Expenditures for FY16 Overtime Budget to date.  3.Purpose for Expenses for AFD FY16 Overtime Budget to date.  4.  Anticipated Overtime expenditures from AFD FY16 for the remaining budget year.  5.  Is anything other than Overtime being paid out of the AFD FY16 Overtime Budget as of August 24th 2016.  So the actions of the AFF prove that overtime is the issue not low morale.

The Coleman report did have some claims about other subjects that the Chief is addressing and he gave a 4 page response concerning those issues.  The response from the AFF about the audit is that the Auditor put down what the Chief and the City Manager told her to address.  I have talked to Ms. Brooks concerning this allegation and it is totally false.  The AFF has been totally silent about the issues in the Coleman survey that address their actions.

In Conclusion:  1. I have a total respect for our Arlington Fire Fighters, and I do not associate the exemplary work they do for the citizens of Arlington, with the actions of the AFF.  2.  Our Fire Department is held in high esteem throughout the nation.  The policies implemented by Chief Crowson are cutting edge and other departments come to the Arlington Fire Department because they wish to emulate them, to see how they work so that they can implement them in their own respective departments.  3.  AFF leadership is having a hard time assimilating acceptance of these same policies.  They are not the Fire Chief.  They are fire fighters that come to work and do a good job for a good wage.  So do your job.  4.  Attempting to fire the Fire Chief is not the job of a union.  Jobs and job protection is, and the Chief wants to hire more fire fighters, to bring the overtime solution into equilibrium.  The union doesn’t want this, ergo low morale.  5.  Council is very tired of this friction, and is frustrated by the actions of the AFF.  6.  AFF actions have become a personal vendetta against the Chief.  7.  Fire Department pay for all ranks has been raised to 102% of the Metroplex average, so standard pay categories are commensurate with other fire fighters in the area.  8.  Lastly. There must be made clear throughout the department that overtime pay cannot be counted on as a guaranteed extension to an employee’s base pay and compensation.     

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Economics and the New Stadium

Today at the Arlington Convention and Visitor’s Board meeting we had a report on a study accomplished by a firm in California.  They provide this type of service for most cities across the U.S.  What I gleaned from the report was that Arlington has 13.9 visitors a year, and they spend $140 mil in our city each year, not to include hotel, and rental car.  We are looking at about $100 a night/person to our local economy.   This is significant in that VISA tells us that 52% of our sales tax is paid for by visitors or people that live in zip codes outside the city.  So when you look at the price of a new stadium the numbers prove that the citizens of Arlington will pay less than half of the price.  But remember that rental car tax and hotel tax is also being thrown into the subsidy.  These are likely visitors also.

Let’s break down the numbers for the stadium.  I will do this without figuring in interest, because if the stadium is paid off early, like all the others, that could reduce the obligation by hundreds of millions of dollars.  So let’s keep it simple.

The stadium cost to the city is capped at $500 mil.  If you divide this by 30 yrs. you will get $16 mil a year as an obligation.  Remember that 52% is paid for by visitors or people that simply don’t live in Arlington.  So now we are down to $8 mil to the taxpayers.  The Rangers will pay $2 mil a yr. for rent or the right to play in your stadium.  So now we are down to $6 mil a yr.  So let’s include the Rental Car and Hotel tax also paid by our visitors at $2.5 mil.  That brings us down to the actual cost of $3.5 mil a yr. to the citizens of Arlington.  So for $3.5 mil a yr. the city of Arlington gets major league baseball and an economic impact of $77.5 mil to the economic engine of this city.  Don’t get me wrong, $3.5 mil is not chump change, but the return on investment is much greater.  These numbers clearly indicate the fact that Arlington is a major entertainment venue and we are adding to it with Texas Live and additional hotels in the area.  I hope that you can understand the magnitude of this decision and the impact that it has on the economics of our city and its ability to provide services to our citizens.

I will be voting YES to keep the Rangers in Arlington.  I hope you can see the reasoning in my decision.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Short Term Rentals

With the AirBNB issue on the front burner, I guess it is time to talk about some of the issues.  A couple of years ago we had a party house that went viral on several weekends and the neighbors were fed up with the actions of the short term renters.  I brought this forward to Council and there was little appetite for a resolution at that time.  It was determined that it would be advantageous to list the residence with the city and if they were rented as short term rentals then a hotel tax should be added, because it took away from the business of our hotels.  It would also register the home so we could see if there recurring issues with certain rentals.   Now this is part of the economic impact that our city has because we enjoy a vibrant entertainment district.  People will come here for any number of events. One such event that was problematic was Texas/OU weekend.  You can imagine students renting a 5,000 sq/ft plus house to party for the weekend next to your home.  This is what we need to stop! 

Now I believe that there are legitimate and responsible people that can rent their homes without the discourse that some irresponsible owners allow.   That is where some regulation and guidance would be advised.  Austin doesn’t allow you to rent you’re home unless you are the resident of that home.  This would allow people to rent their own home for events such as Super Bowls and World Series etc.  This also would preserve home owner’s rights, which is a big issue.  The second possibility would be to have the home owner live within a certain distance from the rental property, say 300 ft.  That way if there was a problem then the neighbors would have recourse to the owner that lives in the immediate area.

If you own a property, you should have certain rights.  One of those rights is to rent the home to help defer the cost of the mortgage.  But the rights of the owner should not allow the degradation of the neighborhood.  The problem is that there are good landlords and there are also slumlords that only care about cash flow.  The city will have to regulate for the lowest common denominator, to insure that neighborhoods are protected and still uphold property owner’s rights.  That is why I brought this back up to the Council as a new agenda item.  I suggest that you watch the June 28th afternoon session of the meeting, on the city website.  It is very informative and will give you an idea as to the depth of this issue.

Now some people say that this is the same thing as running a business in a neighborhood, zoned for residential.  No it is not.  The swinger’s house was in fact a business that had a revenue stream dedicated to providing a service.  Renting your home does, in fact provide a revenue stream.  But the service is shelter, just like the homeowner next door, and we are all entitled to shelter.  If a homeowner rents his home for a year, we don’t know what that renter is like.  They might be very nice people.  The duration of the rental seems to be the problem, because if there is a more frequent turnover of the inhabitants, then there is an increasing the possibility of problematic tenants.  That is why I think the city should look at this issue and come up with a solution. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Jeff Mosier's Article

Jeff Mosier wrote this article in response to Brett Shipp's biased investigative piece written this week.
Jeff has the integrity to tell the truth about the contract with the Rangers.  His article follows:

People nationwide are wondering if the proposed $1 billion Texas Rangers stadium is essentially a scam of Arlington taxpayers after investigative reporting this week by WFAA-TV (Channel 8) bulldog Brett Shipp.
His story — picked up nationally — said the city-team contract features a secretive provision that increases Arlington taxpayers’ share of the deal from 50 percent to 80 percent. Shipp described this as something they didn’t want “you to see and aren’t eager to talk about.”
 Popular sports website Deadspin picked up Shipp’s story and concluded: “Spending public money on stadiums to give to billionaires is bad. Stop. [Expletive]. Doing it.”
The story was also aggregated by Yahoo NewsNBC Sports blog Hardball Talk and conservative website Breitbart.
The report brought up both long-running concerns about stadium financing but missed the mark in several aspects when it comes to the details, including the basic math.
This story doesn’t go into the debate about public financing of stadiums; that’s another story entirely. But here’s what you need to know about the stadium deal. 
What are the parking and ticket taxes?
The story’s gotcha element is the possible parking and ticket taxes. Those taxes haven’t officially been added to the deal, but they seem likely to happen.
If approved, the city would create a tax of up to 10 percent on Rangers stadium tickets and up to $3 on Rangers stadium parking. But the revenue would count toward the Rangers’ share of the debt rather than the city’s.
Using as a template AT&T Stadium — which has the same parking and ticket taxes — Shipp estimated this could raise about $300 million for the Rangers’ portion of the debt. When adding that chunk to the city’s $500 million share of the debt — where the report said it belongs — he estimated Arlington taxpayers would be hit with $800 million in debt or about 80 percent of the stadium cost.
But city officials pointed out this fails to take into account interest.
That $300 million Shipp calculated would actually pay off $120 million in debt, not $300 million. He said this city’s deal isn’t even close to 50-50. But math says it isn’t close to 80-20.
Arlington taxpayers’ debt load
The report also misses by continually referring to Arlington taxpayers and their share of the debt burden.
The parking and ticket taxes would be paid by those who go to the game. Some are Arlington residents. Some live outside the area. Also, roughly half the city’s sales tax money comes from nonresidents. While that $500 million debt is on the city’s ledger, about half will be paid by outsiders.
Precise numbers weren’t immediately available. But it’s possible that Arlington residents will pay for about 30 percent of the stadium, even when factoring in the parking and ticket taxes.
The numbers can tell varied and contradictory stories.
Reason for the taxes
The Rangers could have generated the same amount of money by raising ticket prices and parking fees by an equivalent amount. But doing it this way allows them to get a lower interest rate, since the bonds are backed by a dedicated revenue source.
The city considers this part of the team’s debt since the Rangers on the hook for the debt, not the taxpayers. If the revenue falls short, the city would charge the Rangers additional rent to make up for the shortfall.
That actually happened early on at the Cowboys’ new stadium. The parking and ticket taxes didn’t initially generate enough revenue so the Cowboys paid extra rent to meet the bond’s obligations. Those taxes are paying for nearly $148 million worth of bond debt for that football stadium.
There are many, though, who think this is sneaky math on the part of the city and the Rangers. They argue that these are taxes that are being handed over to a private business.
Same story, different team
The same complaints were lobbed against the Cowboys stadium project about a decade ago. The opposition to the use of those taxes was covered extensively back then by The Dallas Morning News and Fort Worth Star-Telegram as well as by Shipp.
Here’s an excerpt from a 2004 Dallas Morning News story I wrote shortly before early voting started for the Cowboys’ new stadium:
Q: Is this a 50-50 deal between Arlington and the Cowboys?
A: To borrow from past presidential politics, it depends on how you define the question. The city would pay $325 million or half of the cost, whichever is less. Supporters say that means that if there are cost overruns, the city is protected. Opponents have criticized that assertion, saying that the Cowboys will have part of their debt funded by an additional tax on tickets and parking. Also, they explained that the Cowboys would get almost all the revenue from the stadium.
Was the city trying to hide these taxes?
Shipp also popped on the Dennis and Friedo show at KESN-FM (103.3) Wednesday to discuss the stadium deal and said he knew when the Rangers stadium was announced that there would be a similar tax provision.
“Guess what? I found it,” he told the hosts. “Hell, it’s on Page 2. They didn’t even try to hide it. It’s just nobody decided to read it. But I read it, and I did the math. And the math means essentially that the citizens of Arlington will being paying for 80 percent — at least 80 percent — of that stadium, if it gets built.”

Arlington officials said the use of the parking and ticket taxes for the Rangers’ portion of the stadium debt wasn’t a secret. It wasn’t mentioned in press releases, but the information was widely available to the media and public.
Those taxes were featured in a pair of PowerPoint presentations Arlington City Manager Trey Yelverton gave to the City Council last month, when the deal was approved.
The taxes also were mentioned in the stadium deal frequently asked questions on the city’s new Rangers stadium web page.
In addition to other sources of funding, the Texas Rangers plan to utilize user fees to support construction of the new ballpark. These user fees could include a tax on admission tickets, a parking tax, and revenue from the sale of individual ‘Stadium Builder Licenses’ that enable the license holder to buy tickets for certain seats in the new ballpark. The City would issue these bonds, which are backed solely by ticket and parking taxes and not by any other source of tax revenue.
City officials initially ignored Shipp’s report but assembled this public statement after questions from The News.
“The city has endeavored to be as transparent as possible by providing all documents on a public website and making public announcements and presentations about the deal well in advance of a City Council vote to call an election,” Marketing Communications Manager Jay Warren said in a written statement. “Additionally, this was announced six months prior to a possible election, giving the public ample time to make an informed decision.
The statements from the city were measured. A press release issued Thursday afternoon from the Arlington Chamber of Commerce was a little less so, describing the story as “grossly inaccurate.”
“There has been a steady stream of biased coverage about the new Rangers ballpark from Dallas media,” wrote Michael Jacobson, president and CEO of the Arlington Chamber. “I am sure they have their motives, and it is possible that they are not in the best interests of Arlington. But the good news is outside forces will not make this decision. We are fortunate that Arlington’s future rests in the hands of our citizens on November 8th who will vote yes to keep our beloved Rangers in Arlington.”

In a way, they can agree on that.