There's nothing quite like a boss telling his employees - and customers, or in this case, taxpayers - that his workforce stinks. But is Mayor Richard M. Daley right when he says that city workers are nothing but a bunch of clock-watchers? Let's take a look.
"Mayor Daley said today he unloaded four of Chicago’s most valuable assets for a $6 billion mountain of cash, in part, because city employees are clock-watchers who don’t think about the customers," Fran Spielman reported in the Sun-Times on Wednesday.
Spielman wrote a follow-up on Thursday saying the mayor claimed his comments were taken out of context and that the media was just trying to stir up a little confrontation at City Hall.
"Daley insisted today that he never said city employees were clock-watchers," she wrote.
"I said that some people just watch the clock — government workers or anybody else — and leave," he said. "But here in Chicago, we’re fortunate that people just don’t watch the clock."
On Wednesday, Daley had said, “'They’re not customer-related. They’re gonna leave at 5 o’clock. They’re gonna leave at 4:30 or 4:00. I’m sorry. We’re on a time clock. They walk out. But, in the private sector, when you have a customer, you’re gonna stay there making sure they’re happy and satisfied." Daley's logic, as always, is hard to follow. The mayor is defending leasing or selling city assets such as Midway Airport and its parking meters to private interests because he apparently believes private interests can get more out of those assets by getting more out of their employees. Good for them, if true. But how does that help the city?
The question before the mayor is whether the city is better off deriving revenue from these assets over the long-term instead of making a quick strike to solve budget problems now.
It's also clear that Daley doesn't understand a private sector in which he's never worked. No clock-watchers there? Take a look around your office right now. Think the mayor is right?
Also, city workers leave their jobs when their shifts are over because . . . their shifts are over. Same with the private sector - at least the unionized part of it. Maybe Daley prefers Wal-Mart's old style of management, which forced employees to work for free off-the-clock.
And do employees in the private sector stay at work until customers are happy and satisfied? Maybe when the mayor is the customer, but that's an experience foreign to most of us.
On the other hand, city workers are frequently caught napping on the job. You might even say they watch the clock so they know when to wake up and go back to the office and punch out. But whose fault is that? Daley is the boss, after all. And how does that compare to the far greater losses suffered by taxpayers due to corruption and cronyism perpetrated by those closest to the mayor?
"You should think outside the box. You can't ask taxpayers to be taxed more and more," Daley said.
But Daley is doing just that, though his ever-increasing taxes come in the form of outrageously expensive parking ticket fines, the stealth madness of TIFs, and his blessing to a Cook County tax increase. Oh, and there's the higher costs we'll all pay to park at meters and use Midway Airport after the private interests who take them over from the city raise prices to make those deals acceptably lucrative to them.
"Daley advised [critics] to 'go back to business school' to learn the benefits of turning city assets into a cash windfall to keep building while other cities are cutting back," Spielman writes.
Or maybe Daley should go back to public policy school and learn the difference between a business and a city. One is for-profit, the other is non-profit. One is a hierarchy and the other is a democracy. One has customers who come and go; the other has citizens who pay the salaries of Daley and his workforce to make this a better place to live. And in one, the citizens own the assets the boss keeps selling - yet, somehow its the citizens who end up paying more for no longer owning them.