After adjusting for inflation, we pay CEOs today four times what they made in the 1970′s. Pay-for-performance is the idea behind exorbitant CEO pay, but the fact is that CEO’s make big money whether their companies perform or not. CEO pay is a problem that is affecting us all as we struggle to afford housing, health care and education in the middle class, while the 1% continues to hoard resources. We need to reach some social consensus on what to do about this problem. Otherwise, the stratification will continue. From Time: Are We Paying Our CEOs Enough: A New Survey From the Wall Street Journal and Hay Group Suggests Maybe Not | Business | TIME.com.
Being a woman-owned business myself, it is concerning to hear that, while there are a growing number of women-owned businesses in Rhode Island, they are employing less people. Our employee numbers in Rhode Island have decreased by 26.8 percent since 1997, and that this was the “worst decline in the country for percentage change of employees.”
The number of Rhode Islanders employed by women-owned firms declined 26.8 percent to 21,000 in 2012 from 28,678 in 1997. This was the worst decline in the country for percentage change of employees.
Once again, Providence politicians are looking to the city’s private colleges for money to help shore up the city’s poor finances. RIPR political analyst Scott MacKay says these non-profit institutions shouldn’t be seen as cash cows for the city.
There has been more rhetoric than reality in the latest dispute between Brown University and Mayor Angel Taveras and his city council allies.
This is an excellent video from an erudite scholar of our economy. David Korten is the author of When Corporations Rule the World and is here to tell us that we don’t need Wall Street in its current form. It is just messing up the economy with corruption and financial warrior tactics to protect and further enrich the elite. We need local banks and local economies. The notion is radical — what will we all do with our 401K’s if there is no Wall Street? Go back to having a savings account and earning 3% interest a year. Actually that doesn’t sound half bad. The problem is banks are paying less than 1% interest right now.
Some important updates from Steve Stycos:
OPENNESS IN GOVERNMENT
In my first months on the City Council, I have pushed for more openness in handling of claims against the city and hearing of tax assessment appeals.
Upon the recommendation of Assistant City Solicitor Evan Kirshembaum, the Claims Committee approved a proposal by Ward Four Councilman Robert Pelletier to limit the public discussion of claims against the city by a 4-1 vote. I chair the committee and was the one vote against the proposal.
Later, the Providence Journal reported that City Solicitor Anthony Cipriano reversed Kirshembaum’s recommendation and declared the information should be public. Most claims are minor, like mailboxes hit by plows or tires flattened by pot holes. I agree that discussions of legal strategy, like how much to offer claimants, should be in private session. But when the council votes to spend money, the public should know what is happening. This has yet to be resolved.
Meanwhile, I learned that the Board of Tax Assessment Review had been holding deliberations in private. Under state law, taxpayers have a right to challenge their tax assessment before a three member board appointed by the City Council. The board taped its meetings, but only the portion when taxpayers made their pleas for lower assessments. Board discussion of whether to grant appeals were in not recorded. After I raised the issue, the board began keeping minutes of the entire meeting.
I also learned that board members were being paid in violation of city ordinances. Board members are paid $50 for each meeting they attend, but the city code limits them to five meetings a month unless the city council president or chair of the Finance Committee give written permission. In 2010, however, the board met 124 times without receiving permission for extra meetings. When I raised the issue, the board chairman, Rory Budlong, said the board was unaware of the notice requirement.
Shortly afterwards, the board held its first meeting with written minutes. It lasted 28 minutes, but the city code says meetings must last at least an hour for board members to be paid. At the last council meeting I stated that the board should not be paid for the meeting, but Mayor Fung’s top administrators and Robert Pelletier disagreed.
Meanwhile, Councilman Pelletier, as chair of the Finance Committee, has given the board permission to meet more than five times a month.
Based on this record, I have no confidence in this board and will be pushing to correct the situation. The amount of overpaid meeting fees is not huge, but I believe these three people owe the city money.
JUVENILE HEARING BOARD
Cranston’s Juvenile Hearing board hears minor offense cases, like fights and vandalism, referred by the police department. In an effort to keep teenagers out of the court system, the board usually resolves cases by requiring community service or an essay.
For years, Judy Pelkey served on the board, but when she was not reappointed, the seven member board became all male. Judy argues that it is important, especially for women and girls, for the board to contain women. I agree and have sponsored an ordinance to require at least two members of each sex serve on the board. The proposal ran into some opposition at its first hearing and I agreed to continue the issue so we could gather some additional information.
I need some women to support it. Please let me know if you are able to testify in favor of the proposal. The Ordinance Committee will hold a hearing on it and other items Thursday March 17 at 7 PM at City Hall.
The actual proposed ordinance is at http://web.cranstonri.org/clerkdocs/2011Ordinances/Proposed/Juvenile%20Hearing%20Bd%20Composition%20Diversity.pdf
ZONING REFORM ORDINANCE
In response to the Cranston Zoning Board of Review approval of variances for CVS and Stop and Shop, Ward Two Councilman Emilio Navarro and I have sponsored a zoning reform ordinance to improve the zoning review process. The ordinance seeks to make the board pay more attention to the zoning code and improve the public’s opportunity to participate in decisions that change their neighborhoods. A Providence Journal editorial printed on 3/10/11 discusses the problem. A hearing on the proposed ordinance will be held in April.
The ordinance incorporates suggestions from leaders of the West Bay Land Trust and Respect4Edgewood. Currently the zoning board pays little attention to our zoning code, choosing instead to work out deals with developers late at night after most of the public has gone home. In both the CVS and Stop and Shop cases, stores were granted sign variances by insisting they needed much more than allowed by law, and then at the last minute “compromising” to a lower amounts that was considerably more than permitted by law.
In the Stop and Shop case, 300 square feet of signs were permitted, but the store wanted 450 square feet. The zoning board granted 375 feet with almost no discussion of whether the agreement complied with legal guidelines for granting variances. Instead they made a quick deal, with none of the city’s planning department staff present. At that point only Stop and Shop lawyer Robert Murray, one member of the public and I were present.
In an attempt to get zoning board members to pay more attention to the zoning code, the reform proposal requires them to take an oath before the City Council to uphold the law.
The reform proposal also requires the board to make decisions when the public is still present. Currently the board holds public hearings on all cases on the agenda and then, often late in the evening, makes decisions on each case. The reform proposal requires them to hear the first case, then make a decision before hearing the second case. This would allow members of the public to watch the deliberations and learn the outcome without sitting through every little case about a mother-in-law apartment. The change is also business friendly because it allows lawyers to go home after their client’s case finishes, reducing hourly billing for time spent waiting for a decision..
Another reform provision requires developers to submit two sets of plans: one in compliance with the code, and one with the variance they are seeking. This would allow the zoning board to review alternatives. The reform proposal also requires plans be submitted a week before the hearing, to give time for public review. CVS changed its plans hours before one meeting, making it difficult for Respect4Edgewood to intelligently analyze them. Other provisions would require plans be submitted in “pdf” files and for site plan review meetings to be held after work hours.
Finally, the reform ordinance bars the zoning board from soliciting or accepting testimony after the public hearing is closed. During the Stop and Shop hearing, attorney Murray was allowed to make comments during the board’s deliberations.
I also would like to limit the board’s ability to make last minute “compromises” with developers, but have yet to settle on a specific plan. Important zoning decisions need to be made carefully, not late at night by scrawling notes on a set of plans.
The hearing on the reform ordinance will be held Thursday April 14 at 7 PM in City Hall before the Ordinance Committee. We will need public support to win passage.
Clearly, Steve Stycos continues to fight for better government, and hopefully will be setting a new precedent for conducting meetings more ethically. I also appreciate his calling attention to the issue of increasing female representation on the juvenile hearing board.
It’s understandable that teachers are feeling anxious and afraid in Providence. But let Mayor Taveras reassure you — he is not out to bust the unions, so that solves that question. Whew, glad the Mayor is still the moral, union-supporting person that I thought he was. Still, a lot of other unanswered questions linger about the changes that teachers in Providence face due to the termination notices they received.
The biggest unanswered question in my mind is whether every teacher will need to go through the hiring process in order to have a job. Along with this being a tremendous insult to people who have poured their lives into their jobs, it will also be extremely expensive to carry out all of those interviews. Note to Mayor’s office — Think: interviews = expensive, like money that could be spent to keep teachers. But perhaps we don’t have to worry about that, as according to a Business Week article published today, teachers will not have to reapply and be rehired. From the article:
There are echoes in this week’s move of last year’s decision in nearby Central Falls, where every teacher at the high school was fired. Those firings, however, were the result of the school’s poor performance, not because of money. And unlike Central Falls, where a compromise was struck and all the teachers were rehired, teachers in Providence won’t have to reapply to keep their jobs. [bold mine]
And yet, in today’s Projo,
But David V. Abbott, the state’s deputy education commissioner, said the difference between layoffs and dismissals is this: When a teacher is laid off under state statute, he or she is put on a recall list. Although that teacher is no longer working and no longer paid, that person exists in an employment “limbo.” The teacher hasn’t been actually dismissed.
If a job becomes available for which that teacher is qualified, that person must be rehired based on seniority.
“If you are laid off, you have the right of recall,” Abbott said Friday. “You still have one stick in your bundle. If I’m dismissed, I’m out of work and I need to be rehired.”
In effect, every teacher who is terminated has to re-apply for his or her job as would any new teacher entering the system.
So which is it? You’ll forgive me if I’m still a little confused, and feeling some angst for the teachers in Providence. Yet, perhaps it’s not worth worrying about because it’s just a power play in a political game that is going to take months to play out. As the Business Week article put it, “The decision to send the notices was seen by some as another signal to public sector workers that government officials are ready to play rough to win changes to labor contracts.”
Well, my far more prescient and wise co-blogger Nancy was responsible for the first two correct predictions, and I can make claim to the third — predicting that Central Falls would be laying off some teachers in the New Year. I’m not sure I should be given any fortune-teller points for this, though. Some things are fairly easy to call.
As for Nancy’s prediction that the Dow would surpass 12,000, that one indeed came true, with a near 500 point cherry on top. But now it looks like now we’re seeing a pullback. Note that Nancy didn’t make any calls on whether the Dow would drop back down below 12,000 after hitting this mark. So, buyer beware as to what comes next after the initial Kmareka predictions. Mayor Taveras in Providence is talking about closing some schools. Wonder if Central Falls will also be thinking in that direction, given that their city is in receivership. I hope all these empty school buildings will be put to good public use, though I doubt there will be a quick turnaround. And if they’re building new schools, they better make sure they aren’t building on former superfund waste dumps. I wonder how the Race to the Top money for charter schools will play into this equation.
What is Steve Stycos about? Independent analysis, common sense energy and conservation efforts, and increased clarity on what we are spending money on in Cranston and whether we are getting our money’s worth. We desperately need Steve’s skills on the Cranston city council:
When news broke that Councilman Terence Livingston wouldn’t be seeking re-election in Ward 1, whispers began over who would throw their hat into the ring. But perhaps no candidate caused more of a stir than longtime School Committee member Steve Stycos.
No one was as surprised as Stycos himself.
“I didn’t expect to run,” he said of his 11th hour decision. But after a series of land use discussions (including decreased lot sizes in western Cranston and the Warwick Avenue Stop & Shop) that troubled the Edgewood resident, he decided the empty seat was reason enough. “I was sitting there saying, ‘I have the opportunity to try and make sure these things don’t happen.’”
It was 10 years ago when Stycos first broke onto the School Committee, after a previously unsuccessful run. And since then, he has carved out a reputation as an outspoken, albeit unobtrusive, advocate. Always soft-spoken in demeanor, he has subjected his colleagues to extensive questioning on matters ranging from curriculum to contracts.
Voters can expect the same on the Council.
“I’m not interested in going along because a majority wants to do something,” he said.
If that means coming up against opposition from entrenched incumbents, Stycos isn’t scared. As a freshman committee member, his opinion was often overlooked.
“I felt for a number of years no one was listening. The attitude was, ‘he’s off the wall,’” Stycos recalled.
In his early years in public service, Stycos’ colleagues killed several of his pet projects. During negotiations with the teachers’ union before the most recent contract, Stycos voted to table the contract because it had not been costed out.
He did not receive a second to the motion.
When it came the City Council’s turn, however, they passed an ordinance to ensure that never happened again.
Stycos thinks those kind of protections are common sense, as is making the budget accessible to taxpayers, which was another priority for him.
“I felt that the budgets in general were inflated and you couldn’t understand them. I think there’s still a problem with understanding them,” he said.