Now we know how Wilkes-Barre City Mayor Tom Leighton solves serious problems. He creates new ones.
Leighton, hiding behind a press release, fired 11 firefighters, effective this week, to help solve an expected $2 million year-end shortfall.
The other group he has targeted is city taxpayers. The mayor has threatened to impose a 31-percent tax hike on businesses already struggling to stay afloat and on a group which includes many elderly citizens on fixed incomes.
To date, there has been no talk of any cuts in City Hall, Leighton’s kingdom.
What doesn’t make sense is that the firefighters appear to be the only city union which tried – although not enough – to cooperate with the mayor’s call for help. Five union members retired, and, according to local firefighters union President Mike Bilski, gave up a $1,500 training bonus, according to The Citizens’ Voice. Although why city taxpayers have to pay employees a bonus for training to do their jobs is absurd.
It’s public knowledge that there has been no love lost between Leighton and the firefighters, unlike his cozy relationship with the police officers, who cost the city a bundle when they whined about losing their cherished jobs of counting money in the parking meters. That unnecessary battle cost city taxpayers a bundle in back pay, which also had to be paid to the firefighters, who had a parity clause in their contracts.
These public employee union contracts, like those throughout the country, with their generous pensions and health care packages, are in large measure responsible for the financial woes cities, counties and states face. And who’s always left holding the bag? Taxpayers.
The unions in Wilkes-Barre needed to, but refused, to make any concessions. Leighton asked them to give up three non-federal holidays, which, frankly, should never have been doled out in the first place. Flag Day takes the cake. They were also asked to give up their negotiated 3-percent pay hikes but would not.
Maybe had Leighton agreed to cut his own salary, which would have been a grand gesture, and cut staff in City Hall, the unions may have followed suit.
Instead, for starters, his honor slashes the fire department, which worries union chief Bilski, and with good reason. ”We can’t operate with just one engine on per shift,” he said. Did Leighton think this through? Hopefully, he did. But, this is a guy who wants to demolish the Hotel Sterling, which is owned by CityVest, and worry about the legal ramifications later. Geeeezz! (More on the CityVest debacle soon .)
Leighton said more layoffs are coming. Meanwhile, he and his sidekick, Drew Mc-laugh-lin, are in hiding.
“The city will not have any official comments beyond the press release,” Drew said. Leighton refused to discuss the layoffs beyond his safety net press release.
Frank Sorick, who ran for mayor and is now the head of a new taxpayers’ group, asked, “Why aren’t we cutting some of the folks at City Hall who are not part of the public safety.” Well, we don’t know the answer to that good question because after slashing the fire department, Mayor Tom Leighton ran for the hills.
Councilman Tony George is upset too. “I believe this creates a high risk of danger for our citizens. I have said before that public safety should be our number one priority and that I would not agree with any cuts, let alone a quarter of the department,” George said in an e-mail response to The Times Leader. “There are other cuts that could have been made.”
Surely he’s not talking about the St. Patrick Day’s parade?
- Betty Roccograndi