“I don’t want to be the Grinch That Stole Christmas,” City Councilman Bruce Allen said Monday night, as he proceeded to Grinchily steal Christmas Eve from city employees.
On the table was a proposal from Councilwoman Nancy Dowdy to give city employees a half-day off on Christmas Eve, which this year falls midweek on a Wednesday. “I know it’s a tough economic time, but I also know it’s been a rough year on our employees. And out of appreciation to them, to give them enough time to prepare for Christmas Eve and dinner with their families and church and what have you, I would like this council to consider at least giving them a half-day off on Christmas Eve,” Dowdy had said.
A reasonable idea, it seemed to be. The city, like many of its surrounding localities, had in years past given a full-day for Christmas Eve when Christmas Eve fell on a weekday. Our surrounding localities are following suit again this year, but Waynesboro City Council had backed off giving a full-day when setting its calendar for 2008. But that was before, as City Councilwoman Lorie Smith noted, the council failed to follow through with the implementation of a proposal to boost city-employee pay and went instead in its adoption in the spring of an operating budget for 2008-2009 that included a meager 1.5 percent pay raise for city employees.
“I struggle with a lot of the folks that we have who don’t have a lot of accrued leave. And some of our folks that, I think they struggle at this time of year to begin with. I think it would be a gesture from this council that would be greatly appreciated at a time when I think that employee morale is not that great,” Smith said. “We gave a one and a half percent increase last year. I just think this is something that we could express some goodwill to our staff,” Smith said.
The move to give a half-day to city employees would also help the council repair the hurt feelings brought on by Mayor Tim Williams’ public fight to more than double the pay of council members even in light of the failure of the council to address the employee-pay issue. Neither Allen nor Williams, members of the conservative bloc that forms an effective working majority on the council, seemed willing to touch the council-pay issue with the proverbial 10-foot pole in the context of the half-day for Christmas Eve discussion, for their part.
“I, too, think it would be a great gesture to offer the city employes a half-day off, but I’m also confounded with the problem of, they come in, and they attempt to put in a half-day’s work, and we have a full-day’s expense for a half-day’s work,” said Williams, who coincidentally earlier in the meeting had pushed for the council to consider postponing a work session scheduled for next week upon the apparent resolution of one of the issues that had been slated for discussion at the work session.
Allen explained his stance from a more philosophical perspective. “Back in May when I got elected, I run as a conservative and trying to do my best to save the money and spend it the wiseliest that we can for all the taxpayers of this city,” Allen said. “And I know there’s a lot of people hurting right now. I mean, there’s a lot of people getting ready to lose their jobs over here at Invista, and those people would love to be having half a day or have the opportunity to be able to work and make a living. And at these economical times that we’re having right now, and we’re asking our citizens and the taxpayers to give us more, we need to take and step up and give the example of what we’re going to do to try to help everybody in this town,” Allen said.
“I don’t want to be the Grinch That Stole Christmas or half a day of Christmas or Christmas Eve, and I don’t want the city employees to be mad at me, but when I come across with what I’m trying to do for everybody in this town, it’s for the city employees, so that we might be able to keep as many of the jobs as we can, because I believe we’re going to have tough economical times facing us in the next 24 months, and I want to do everything that I can on my part to protect all the city workers’ jobs and positions. Which me might not be able to do,” Allen said.
It’s hard to get a read on what Allen was trying to relate there exactly. It seems the gist of it is that he thinks that somehow having city employees working until 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve will send a message to Waynesboro that City Hall is serious, though what it is being serious about is still very much at question.
“I think, you know, we need to be conservative and spend our money the best wisely way we can,” Allen said. “And I know, you know, when I was a city employee, I loved to get a half a day off, or a full-day off, and I never once said, No, I’d rather be here working. But what I’m looking at is we get people in here to work, they come to work and clock in, and about the time they get out on the job, it’s going to be time for them to clock out and come back and go back home. And I just don’t think it’s in the best interests of our economy to vote for that,” Allen said.
Williams, who, again, is pushing for hefty pay raises for council members in the face of a groundswell of nasty public opposition to the idea, and its suddeness, agreed with Allen, adding to his earlier observation that the city would be getting a half-day’s work for a full-day’s pay another having to do with the fact that the proposal to offer the half-day off had not been brought up earlier in the year. “If we want to revisit next year’s schedule, I think we need to do that early in the year and have that discussion. But I, too, would not support just at the last minute giving a half-day off to our city employees,” Williams said.
– Story by Chris Graham