West Central Florida Federation of Labor

1. What are your ideas for avoiding incomplete and/or substandard work performed on city-funded projects?  If work on city-funded projects is unsatisfactory, what repercussions would you propose?

If this were a privately build project on a city contract, I would hold the contractor accountable through hold backs in the contract. I would ensure that the architectural contract included supervision work on design specifications.  There would be penalties built in for incomplete, substandard or late work and rewards for earlier completion up to or above specifications. For city built projects, city departments would be subject to the same scrutiny.  Managers that did not ensure work up to standard or schedule would be held accountable through standard disciplinary and corrective methods.  If repetitive failures occurred, that manager would be relieved of duty. If workers are not performing properly, they would be subject to a fair corrective process and also relieved if they did not improve. Contracts with Union workers and unionized management would be modified to ensure that a high standard of work and accountability can occur.

2. What responsibility, if any, does the city have to ensure that contractors for federally-funded projects honor federal “prevailing wage” rates and overall adherence to labor laws?

The city must ensure that contractors for the city comply with prevailing federal laws on prevailing wages and labor laws. The oversight should not be too onerous so as to make compliance overly costly or difficult.

3. If cuts to services, employees or additional monies are necessary as a result of declining tax revenues, what are your proposals to meet budgetary obligations?
I would propose re-evaluating spending so that the city could live within the funds it can reasonably gather through tax and fee collections. I will be working to cut wasteful spending and taxes. The city should prioritize spending on police, fire, roads, utilities and parks.  There should be no effort to raise taxes to meet obligations that are unrealistic.An example of excess spending are the employee pension and health benefit plans for unionized and non-unionized workers. Defined benefit plans must be transitioned over about a five year period to defined contribution plans. These plans are economically unsustainable and the taxpayers cannot afford them. Also, they simply will not deliver as promised for future beneficiaries despite the promises of politicians and Union leaders. Pension trust funds are already underfunded at 78-83.7% and falling; they assume an unrealistic rate of return of 7.75-8% per year. This is compared to the -0.7% return in the last audit of the retirement plans conducted by the City’s consultants. The health benefit plans must also be reformed, as the city has saved no money to meet its $177 million unfunded liability for retired government work health benefits! The retirement benefit issue is a prime example of where the Union and the City must come together to find common ground. They must develop a transition plan out of defined benefit plans.  I would point out that active and retired government workers cannot count on the city to meet its retirement obligations. Taxes cannot be raised enough to fully fund obligations without harming the economy in serious ways.  At the height of property tax collections in 2007, the retirement plan was still not 100% funded.  I would work to pass incentives to allow government workers to choose to be bought out of the defined benefit plan and to choose a defined contribution plan. Incentives could include pay raises, earlier vestments and altered “last-in, first-out” rules, portability of benefits, free financial planning advice and other solutions the Union may present.  Failure to reform pension plans will result in government workers not receiving promised benefits because the city will be at high risk of bankruptcy as has occurred in numerous cities across the nation.

4. Do you think a Living Wage ordinance should be obligatory for city employees or contractors working on city-funded projects?  Why or why not?

A living wage ordinance will hurt taxpayers and is unnecessary. The prevailing market rate for labor should be used in establishing pay for workers.  The term “living wage” is a misnomer since the artificially high wages lead to fewer jobs and actually make it harder for more people to make a living.  We should lower the cost of living in the city through lower taxes, lower utility bills, less regulation on business, more natural economic development and market based activities to promote prosperity.  If we lower the cost of living, more wages will be living wages.

5. Do you favor an ordinance requiring contractors for city-funded projects to prove they are providing adequate and affordable health care for their employees?  Why or why not?

No.  The terms “adequate and affordable” are very subjective and influenced too strongly by politics as opposed to sound policy. Health benefits should be tied to an individual and portable so a person can carry it with them from job to job and state to state throughout their life. As a member of the Board of the Florida Medical Association and their past Chair on Council of Medical Economics, I developed health system reform plans that will empower patients by giving them ownership of their health benefits and lower their costs of health care while increasing access and improving quality.

6. What are your ideas for dealing with the crime and drug problems in the city?

We need a strong police force that is able to go after crime aggressively but also respect civil rights. We need to end the revolving door arrest/jail/release system where a drunk vagrant literally is arrested, spends the night in jail and is released again to be re-arrested another day. We need to identify and target drug houses and get them out of neighborhoods. We need to build trust with residents to help them clean crime out from their neighborhoods as well.

7. In your opinion, is there adequate housing available for mid- to low-income families?  Explain.

I believe there is adequate housing stock, but that people’s dollars don’t go as far due to government interference in the economy and the high cost of living they produce.  We need to lower the cost of living as described above and grow the economy to ensure more people can be prosperous in St. Petersburg. We should lower the cost of living in the city through lower taxes, lower utility bills, less regulation on business, more natural economic development and market based activities to promote prosperity.  Efforts to create “affordable housing” by government programs have failed too many times to try again. It is time for different approaches.

8. What actions, if any, should the city take to encourage recycling, use of renewables and green technology in its buildings?

We should recycle when it saves money for the city but not if it costs the city or taxpayers more money. We should follow the same principle for “green technology”. I would ensure that we do not waste money on projects that appear to be “green” but are really economic boondoggles that produce more harm than good.

9. In your opinion, do you believe the City of St. Petersburg has an obligation to employ local people and/or apprenticeships on city-funded projects?  Why or why not?

NO. The City should employ the best qualified person for the job at the prevailing rate of pay applicable for their labor or services as determined by the market.  Doing otherwise causes more qualified people to lose their jobs. It drives up the cost for taxpayers. It creates no incentive for people to improve their skills as competition is removed.  It is unjust to tell a person who lives in Pinellas Park that they can’t work in St. Petersburg because of their zip code.

10. With the majority of struggling Pinellas County schools located in St. Petersburg, how do you envision providing support and opportunities for those schools and its students?

We need to expand charter schools.  We should also support the use of vouchers. We need more power in the hands of parents the personal advocates of children so they can ensure the education their children deserve.

11. If your candidacy is endorsed, what aspect of our support is needed to ensure a successful campaign?

I would appreciate financial support and volunteer help.

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