AFTER THE debacle of the mysterious missing gasoline, Wilkes-Barre City Mayor Tom Leighton and his administration can ill afford the cloak-and-dagger nonsense surrounding a newly disclosed quest for union concessions to cover a budget shortfall.
City Council Chairman Mike Merritt deserves some praise for telling The Times Leader reporters about negotiations to squeeze savings out of the four unions representing city workers, even if his information was less than complete.
It was more than Leighton or his spokesman proffered amid swirling rumors.
"No comment" is not enough.
This is an administration that, only a few months ago, got mired in controversy thanks to incredibly inept record keeping of gasoline and diesel usage from city pumps. A Times Leader investigation showed the city couldn't account for nearly 18,000 gallons of fuel in a seven month period.
The discrepancy prompted inquiries by the state Department of Environmental Protection and the IRS. More important, it injected a serious dose of mistrust in city management. How hard is it to log fuel taken from a tank and note which person in which vehicle did the pumping?
Leighton can ill afford to conceal any fiscal problems and expect the taxpayers to sit idly by. The mayor must quite literally open the books and lay bare any budget woes. He needs to show unions – and residents – exactly how big the problem is, what caused it, and why there is talk of union concessions and possible tax increases.
Merritt suggested the shortfall stems from the tax-collecting woes of the now defunct Centax-Don Wilkinson agency, leaving the city short more than $1 million in anticipated revenue; plausible, but not a satisfying explanation. A one-time, temporary shortfall shouldn't require the complexity of union concessions.
It's time to restore a little trust. Show the money trail. Prove the need.
A one-time shortfall shouldn't
require the complexity of union concessions.