Bay County schools continue work on budgets as state Senate fails to act on pension reform bill |

BAY COUNTY, MI — Bay County schools in the process of piecing together budgets for the 2012-13 school year are bracing for higher employee retirement costs after a reform bill failed to pass the Michigan Senate on Thursday.

The bill designed to overhaul the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System passed by the House of Representatives on Thursday but Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, said they needed more time.

“When we got in and talked about the details, the caucus looked at it and just wanted a little more time,” he said.

Under the current law, districts pay an amount equal to 24 percent of each employee’s salary into the pension fund, with that number expected to jump to 27 percent on July 1. The bill would cap that number at 24 percent.

In addition to the pension rate, the bill would also double health insurance premiums for school retirees; eliminate health coverage in retirement for new workers hired after July 1 and instead putting an extra 2 percent of their compensation into a 401(k) plan; and “prefund” retiree health benefits.

Bangor Township Schools and Essexville-Hampton Public Schools are both holding budget hearings next week and expect to approve budgets for the upcoming school year. Under the bill, Bangor schools would save more than $334,000, while Essexville would keep $277,000, according to a district-by-district analysis.

Essexville Superintendent John Mertz said reform is needed, especially considering the cuts many school districts have already been forced to make.

“The retirement reform is critical for all school districts and needs to be addressed,” Mertz said. “It would have been much more helpful if (the reform) passed.”

Educators now turn their attention to July, when the Senate could approve the bill after break. Bangor schools Chief Financial Officer Mark Orihel said the district is going to pass a budget with the higher pension contribution rate, and make changes if the bill passes.

“Last we know, our board assumes something may happen,” Orihel said. “They’re kind of waiting to see what happens.”

Bay City Public Schools Superintendent Doug Newcombe said some type of reform is needed.

“For school districts as a whole, thye’ve been seeing a significant increase on cost of retirement,” Newcombe said. “Quite frankly, we’ve been cutting here for 10-plus years. We’ve really gotten down to bare bones.”

The district would stand to save nearly $1.3 million if the bill passes. Bay City’s Board of Education could approve its budget at the July 25 meeting.

via Bay County schools continue work on budgets as state Senate fails to act on pension reform bill |

Genesys nurses vote to approve contract agreement |

GRAND BLANC TOWNSHIP, MI — The new nurses union contract is in effect tonight at Genesys Regional Medical Center after members voted to approve a collective bargaining agreement and end months of tense negotiations.

Teamsters Local 332 President Nina Bugbee said the registered nurses finished voting Friday night with a final tally of 724 to 126 in favor of an agreement reached by bargaining units on June 6.

“We are so pleased and happy that, by a wide margin, the majority of the nurses have accepted the contract,” Bugbee said. “It’s a very big relief for the nurses and now hopefully we can move forward and concentrate on great nursing care at Genesys.”

The contract makes nurse-to-patient ratios more favorable to nurses, who in turn accepted lower annual raises and higher health care and pension payments.

“It was a contract that had both give-backs and gains in it,” Bugbee said. “It was a great contract, so I was hoping it would pass and I’m just thrilled that it was passed by this large margin. This is a great day for me and for them.”

The previous contract had been set to expire in July. The new contract is in effect through 2016, according to hospital officials.

“Genesys appreciates and respects all of our nurses, physicians and other associates for maintaining their continued professionalism and dedication to providing the highest quality patient care throughout the bargaining process,” said Genesys chief human resources officer Ron Haase in a statement.

“With this new contract, we are looking forward to working together to continue increasing our focus on exceptional patient care and safety.”

via Genesys nurses vote to approve contract agreement |

Police: Hermantown golf coach bought booze to comfort team after loss | Duluth News Tribune | Duluth, Minnesota

Hermantown High School assistant golf coach Kyle Gordon Ernst

 was formally charged Friday with supplying alcohol to minors.

Ernst was arrested at 3 a.m. Thursday after a Shakopee, Minn., police officer deemed he had been drinking with members of the girls and boys golf teams at a hotel. Police obtained camera footage of Ernst buying more than two cases of beer and a 12-pack of hard lemonade Thursday evening at a convenience store. Ernst was booked into the Scott County Jail and released later Thursday morning.

The teams had been golfing in the Minnesota State Golf Meet in nearby Jordan and police said one of the players reported that Ernst got the beer to provide solace to the boys team, which finished second by one stroke.

Charges were filed Friday morning in Scott County District Court in Shakopee. Ernst, 26, a Hermantown High School alum, is facing one count of gross misdemeanor furnishing alcohol to someone younger than 21.

Reached at home Thursday night, Ernst told the News Tribune he had no comment on the incident.

The News Tribune left e-mail and cell phone messages with Hermantown school Superintendent Brad Johnson, head golf coach Cliff Ashby and activities director Beth Clark seeking comment on the incident. None were returned.

According to the criminal complaint filed by the attorney’s office:

Just before 3 a.m. Thursday, a Shakopee police officer saw a male and three females near a lottery ticket vending machine at Cub Foods. A store employee asked for the male’s age. The employee said the male was older than 18 and eligible to buy lottery tickets but smelled of alcohol.

The officer tried to confront the foursome but was distracted by another employee telling him that another male from the group was in the store. The officer determined that the male had been drinking and he admitted to it despite being underage. The boy told the officer he was staying at a nearby hotel with the Hermantown golf teams as part of the state meet.

The officer gave the boy a ride back to the hotel, which was across the street from the store. The boy led him to his room and the officer recognized one of the males inside as the person he observed near the lottery machine at the store.

The second male was given a breath test that confirmed he had consumed alcohol. Two other males in the room had not been drinking, the report states.

The officer asked for the team chaperone and knocked on a hotel door and got no answer. The officer then went to another room being used by three members of the girls’ team. Ernst answered the door, police said, and came into the hallway and quickly shut the door.

The officer told Ernst that he had confirmed that two boys on the golf team had been drinking. The officer said Ernst seemed nervous and was visibly shaking. The officer asked what was going on and Ernst eventually said the team was upset about losing in the golf meet and he purchased alcohol for them to lighten their mood.

Police later looked at surveillance footage from the convenience store where Ernst bought $62 worth of beer and hard lemonade. The report says Ernst bought 54 containers of beer, 12 hard lemonades and one 40-ounce beer. The footage showed two of the boys’ golf team members in the store.

Two officers were on the scene, one escorting Ernst to his room and the other checking other team member rooms.

The two males and one girl were cited for underage consumption, police said Thursday night.

A breath test was performed on Ernst and the meter read 0.064 percent. The limit on blood-alcohol concentration to drive is 0.08 percent.

Ernst was placed under arrest.

The report makes mention of going to the coach’s room to find another chaperone but it isn’t clear if it was head coach Cliff Ashby that Ernst was referring to. Ernst had told the police he purchased two 12-packs and the lemonade with a plan to share them with team members and the other coach.

Police said Ernst admitted to being in a room with underage team members drinking. He was arrested shortly after police arrived at the hotel.

Police said Thursday night that they wrote tickets for underage alcohol consumption in connection with the incident. Those cited include an 18-year-old Duluth man, a 16-year-old boy from Duluth and a 17-year-old Hermantown girl.

Ernst does not teach in Hermantown but is also an assistant speech coach. He is an assistant golf pro at the city of Duluth’s Lester Park Golf Course.

Craig Perry, associate director at the Minnesota State High School League, said any league infractions would need to be reported by the school in order to be acted on at the state level. It isn’t clear whether the citations would spur any action by the High School League.

via Police: Hermantown golf coach bought booze to comfort team after loss | Duluth News Tribune | Duluth, Minnesota.

HOROWITZ AND LAKSIN: Defeated in recall, Democrats cry foul – Washington Times

Licking their wounds after their attempted recall of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was soundly rebuffed by the Badger State’s voters, Democrats and their public-sector union allies have embraced the underdog mantle. In their dejected telling, the recall’s defeat is entirely attributable to the flood of outside cash to support Mr. Walker. All the standard left-wing scourges – “billionaire” Republicans, the libertarian Koch brothers, the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United – have been trotted out to support this lament. Even the Obama administration has gotten in on the act, with campaign manager Jim Messina alleging that “corporate and special-interest” spending “swung the election” in Mr. Walker’s favor. Democratic strategists despair that the left simply lacks the financial resources to compete with the right on an equal footing.

We can appreciate the allure of this narrative, which exempts the left from any serious reflection about the appeal of its political agenda or the flaws of its recall strategy. Indeed, there is a small kernel of truth to it: While the much-cited media claim that Mr. Walker outspent his Democratic rival, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, by a margin of 7-1 is almost certainly inflated, – the real ratio appears to have been closer to 3-1 – it is true that Mr. Walker was able to raise and spend more than his opponent. But the reasons for Mr. Walker’s spending advantage were unique to the Wisconsin race and are in no way indicative of the balance of spending power between the left and the right. Conventional wisdom and left-wing mythology may cast the GOP as the “party of the rich,” but as we document in our new book, “The New Leviathan,” the facts are closer to the opposite.

The governor’s funding advantage had less to do with the presumptive financial advantage of the right than with the intricacies of Wisconsin’s election finance rules. Those rules allowed Mr. Walker to solicit unlimited contributions from individuals after the recall petitions were filed last November, but they capped the individual contributions his challengers could accept at $10,000. Mr. Walker did not make those rules, though he did use them to his benefit. Counter to the left’s contention, however, the money he raised had nothing to do with the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in the case of Citizens United. That decision overturned a ban on federal election spending and did not apply to state election rules. Mr. Walker would have been able to collect the contributions he did even before the court overturned the federal ban. Even if it had applied, the fact is that the court’s decision freed unions as well as corporations to spend money during elections.

Moreover, it’s far from clear that money was decisive in the recall’s defeat. Polls showed that 88 percent of Wisconsin voters had made up their minds about how they would vote even before May, long before campaign spending on last-minute advertising blitzes had a chance to influence the electorate. Discomfortingly for Democrats, the ranks of those decided voters included union members who decided that whatever their disagreements with the governor, they were not in favor of evicting him before the end of his term. Exit polls later showed 38 percent of voters from union households voted for Mr. Walker. Not least, there is the fact that Mr. Walker’s reforms limited unions’ ability to compel political support from their members. Once Mr. Walker’s budget reform bill made union membership optional, unions such as the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees saw their membership plummet by 45 percent. Of course, it’s easier to invoke the specter of corporate spending than to consider why the state’s public-sector unions have fallen out of favor with traditional union members and supporters.

But the biggest problem with the left’s self-image as victims of conservative corporations and the Republican superrich is that it is a spectacular reversal of reality. While one wouldn’t know it from their post-recall self-pity, Democrats are backed by the most powerful financial machine in political history. It is a cash-armed supporting cast that includes powerful unions such as the National Education Association (total assets: $143 million) and the Service Employees International Union (total assets: $69 million). Big Labor’s power may have waned in recent decades, but unions still have managed to sink fortunes into key races, including $400 million for Democrats during the 2008 election.

The left’s money machine also includes the powerful, tax-exempt left-wing foundations, which tower over their counterparts on the right. As we report in “The New Leviathan,” the 115 major tax-exempt foundations of the left have a combined $104 billion in tax-exempt assets, more than 10 times the amount held by their 75 largest conservative counterparts. Those funds, in turn, are funneled to a vast array of Democratic and progressive 501(c)3 nonprofits and 527 political groups that shape federal and local policy agendas, help Democrats get elected, and shape the nation’s cultural and social issues. For instance, one of the rare bright spots for Democrats after the recall defeat was the victory of state Sen. John Lehman in Racine, where television ads placed by Planned Parenthood had a generally acknowledged impact on the result. In effect, the foundations are permanent and unaccountable corporations that influence national policy far more than for-profit corporations do. But Democrats are too busy blaming corporate cash for their defeat to admit it.

via HOROWITZ AND LAKSIN: Defeated in recall, Democrats cry foul – Washington Times.

Judge dismisses Tulsa official’s civil-rights suit against city | Tulsa World

A civil-rights lawsuit filed by the director of Tulsa’s Human Rights Department against the city was thrown out by a federal judge Friday.

U.S. District Judge Claire Eagan found that Lana Turner-Addison did not adequately show that the alleged deprivation of her constitutional rights occurred as part of an official policy of the city or was the result of actions taken by an official “with final policymaking authority.”

Turner-Addison had filed the lawsuit Sept. 30, claiming that she was wrongly disciplined in response to her filing a civil-service grievance against City Manager Jim Twombly.

She had been assigned by Twombly to assemble and compile the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development five-year consolidated plan, according to the lawsuit.

HUD refused to approve the plans, stating that they were “substantially incomplete and containing numerous errors and inaccuracies.”

The lawsuit claimed that Turner-Addison met with Twombly regarding the shortcomings and alleged that Twombly made it clear that all the blame for the plan would be on her.

Turner-Addison, who is black, claimed in her lawsuit that during the meeting, she felt that she was discriminated against because of her race and gender.

At a February 2011 “pre-action” hearing, Fire Chief Allen LaCroix — the hearing officer — concluded that Turner-Addison should serve five days without pay, as Twombly requested, the suit states.

A few months before that hearing, Turner-Addison had filed a grievance with the Civil Service Commission against Twombly in which she stated that he had created a hostile work environment.

The Civil Service Commission held a hearing in March 2011 and ruled against Turner-Addison, stating that she failed to prove that she was a victim of racial discrimination in a hostile work environment.

On Friday, Eagan found that Turner-Addison, who is also a Tulsa Public Schools board member, did not make “any factual allegations that would support a finding that the city had a custom of violating the rights of its employees.”

The judge also found that the city could not be held liable under relevant civil-rights law because the alleged violation of her constitutional rights was not the result of an action taken by an individual with final policymaking authority.

Eagan pointed out that neither Twombly nor LaCroix could be the final policymaking authority regarding employee discipline because their decisions were reviewable by the Civil Service Commission.

In a separate order filed Friday, Eagan denied Turner-Addison’s attempt to file an amended version of the complaint adding Twombly as a defendant.

The judge found the effort “untimely,” writing that Turner-Addison did not adequately explain why she could not have sought to do so sooner.

via Judge dismisses Tulsa official’s civil-rights suit against city | Tulsa World.

Union leaders worried about right-to-work despite Gov. Walker denial – Milwaukee – The Business Journal

Organized labor leaders are preparing to educate private-sector union members about right-to-work legislation in the aftermath of Gov. Scott Walker’s convincing victory in a recall election over Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

After Walker essentially stripped the collective bargaining rights of public-sector union employees, a factor that played into the recall, union leaders have become increasingly worried that right-to-work legislation would be introduced in an effort to weaken private-sector unions.

However, Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie said right-to-work legislation “will not get to the governor’s desk.”

See this week’s edition of The Business Journal for an in-depth look at the right-to-work legislation issue.

State Rep. Robin Vos, a Republican from Rochester and co-chairman of the Legislature’s powerful budget committee, also said there won’t be any attempts to push right-to-work legislation “any time in the foreseeable future.”

Vos, who said he had previously drafted right-to-work legislation, opposes having workers “coerced” into joining a union.

The state fixed a “significant problem” when it addressed collective bargaining issues involving state employees, Vos said. The changes were aimed at getting unionized state employees to pay a percentage of their health care and pension costs, he added. Those issues already have been addressed, for the most part, in the private sector, Vos said.

Legislators want to focus on ways to promote partnerships between unions and employers as opposed to creating any tension, he said.

“We’ve gone through a tough time,” Vos said. “I think we just need to let this process play out.”

Right-to-work legislation is far from being a “No. 1 priority,” he said.

“This is just another tactic, a red herring, that unions are throwing out there,” Vos said.

via Union leaders worried about right-to-work despite Gov. Walker denial – Milwaukee – The Business Journal.