Wednesday, December 8, 2021

114 West Elm Street
Graham, NC 27253
Ph: 336.228.7851

Rash, impulsive policy-making – even for ostensibly good purposes – doesn’t serve Graham well

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We love and appreciate veterans, and we think most people – at least those around Graham and Alamance County – do, too.

But some of the things done in their name are not particularly worthy of the sacrifice and honor these men and women represent.

Frankly, we were shocked and dismayed, for instance, last week at the attempt (actually a successful one) to push through a new paid holiday for Graham city employees, done in the name of having a city Veterans Day.

With one day’s notice.

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In other words, it was to take effect immediately, allowing city employees to be off two days later, on Thursday, November 11. (More on the rushed procedure in a moment.)

Graham’s city council met last Tuesday night at 6:00 p.m. At the end of about a 54-minute meeting, council member Jennifer Talley – the mayor-elect having won the post in the November 2 elections – during a period reserved for wrap-up comments from city council members and staff, suddenly proposed that the city of Graham expand the number of holidays available to city employees to create a paid city holiday to coincide with the state and federal holiday for Veterans Day.

The issue wasn’t on the agenda.

There had been no public discussion about the idea at any previous city council meeting.

And the general public was not made aware that the issue might come up for a discussion, much less for a vote and final action.

Not one member of the public was allowed to speak on the issue.

It was all ramrodded by mayor-elect Talley, who apparently couldn’t wait until she actually takes over the mayor’s seat to begin running the show.

She didn’t just want to start a discussion about making Veterans Day a paid Graham city employee holiday.

She didn’t want to obtain some staff information and research.

These are the typical methods that conscientious public officials use to lay the groundwork for some future policy change: research and data, public input, a look at alternatives (like reducing other days off), etc.

No, she wanted to propose, vote on, and establish the new holiday, and a permanent one at that – what she said would be a 12th day off for city employees – right on the spot.

The current, actual mayor, Jerry Peterman, initially tried to defer the matter, noting, quite appropriately, that he had established a guiding principle during his 16 years as mayor that the council would not generally allow a hasty or spontaneous vote on issues that had not been on the agenda.

To her credit, council member Melody Wiggins (with whom we candidly acknowledge finding few areas of past agreement) also suggested that while the idea was commendable, it shouldn’t be voted on impulsively “at the very last second.”

But Talley gave credence to the criticism that she doesn’t mind bending, or outright breaking, rules and traditions as she continued to press her colleagues for immediate action.

Unfortunately for taxpayers, the tide turned when mayor pro tem Chip Turner – who, ironically, perhaps, Talley had beaten for the mayor’s post just the week prior – suggested that, since Veterans Day is a state-mandated holiday for state workers (which he had been), it probably should be one for Graham’s city workers, as well, as Talley was proposing.

Peterman, both seeing himself outnumbered and undoubtedly not wanting to have a kerfuffle at the last full meeting over which he’ll preside (Talley will be sworn in as mayor at the council’s December 14 meeting), then reversed course and made the motion to make Veterans Day a permanent holiday for Graham’s city employees, as Talley was advocating.

And the motion was adopted unanimously.

We fear that the kind of procedural restraint that Peterman had exhibited for 16 years by prohibiting these kinds of impulsive votes may be out the window when Talley assumes the gavel, based on this recent insistence of breaking Peterman’s rules of order.

First, a few words about the substance. Is it a good idea to have a paid Graham city holiday for veterans? Quite possibly. But is it necessary in the process to create an additional paid holiday for city employees at taxpayer expense?

Could not one of the existing other 11 days off – such as three days off at Christmas (even when it falls on a weekend) and two at Thanksgiving – have been modified to allow room for a Veterans Day holiday without expanding the total number of paid city holidays to 12?

Here’s the problem we have with the “everybody-else-is-doing-it” philosophy that Talley used to justify adding a holiday by comparing Graham with several other municipalities. That methodology is constantly used by one government agency and another as a form of one-upmanship to ratchet up yet more and more holidays and other benefits for government workers.

Well, Burlington employees have it off, she said. And so do those in other nearby towns and cities. So why shouldn’t Graham employees have it off?

My goodness, if this was such an urgent need, why has it never, ever come up during Talley’s previous two years on the council (or her earlier six years of council service) – or any other time in recent history?

Is this issue of such paramount importance that it needed to be sprung at the end of a meeting two days before the first holiday?

And with a demand for immediate action?

We think it was a rash decision made in too much haste.

Time and time again, government employees accumulate higher salaries, benefits, and holidays – paid and otherwise – while regular taxpayers are expected to foot the bill for all of the largesse. We’re surprised Talley would be party to it, much less the head cheerleader.

In the long term, is it a good thing that residents cannot pay their water bills, get a building permit, or conduct any other business at city hall for yet one more day in the year?

It seems to us these are some of the issues that should have been weighed and considered before, willy-nilly, establishing yet another day off for government employees.

Also in the long term, we’re concerned that this lack of preparation and thoughtful deliberation does not bode well for the inauguration of the Talley mayoral era, which begins next month.

Very unfortunately, she provided just concern to those who have argued that she is too combustible, too closed minded – “I can’t imagine anyone being opposed,” she said, adding “It’s a holiday the staff deserves” – as well as campaign season allegations that she browbeats, bullies, and filibusters her colleagues into submission.

Her insistence on pressing this last-minute issue ended up consuming fully 20 percent of a meeting that was just about over until she kept repeating that a new holiday just had to be enacted that very night.

We also found it amusing, indeed, to hear Talley’s plaintive rendition about what the city’s staff “deserves.”

During the recent mayoral campaign, Talley had generally held herself out as the friend of taxpayers and business people, not government bureaucrats, even city ones.

We would always urge that a little more attention should be given to what the taxpaying public deserves, rather than their employees.

But we’re certainly hoping this impetuous action won’t become a barometer of Talley’s upcoming mayoral tenure.

If so, we’ll all be in for a bumpy ride.

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