My turn: Officials need heart, a brain and courage

Posted: Wednesday, October 17, 2007

I remember it well. This little girl had the red shoes on, and this nice lady was telling her ever so sweetly that she had the power all along. All she had to do was close her eyes, click her heels together and say three times, "There's no place like home." And presto! Dorothy found herself home with all her loved ones. The stuff of real, warm, fuzzy good feelings.

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Compare this fairy tale to the one of our elected officials standing back and telling us they'll take care of us. Just sit back and watch the commercials on television. The only problem is that the phrase "I'll get you my sweetie" doesn't come up on the TV. Too bad, because it should. Fairbanks elected officials have some of the worst voting records in the Legislature when it comes to voting on public employees.

The legislature failed to fund the deficit on the Public Employees Retirement System.

Efforts were made by some of our elected officials to have the public employees fund this deficit by increasing their contributions every year. Terrific idea. No mention that public employees did not have a role in this deficit, no mention of the fact that public employees' retirement has been devastated, no mention that the state cannot even recruit and hire for their vacancies.

Nope - just good old fashioned blame on public employees. A safe bet since everyone knows they are overpaid and underworked. If Toto was around, he'd be in danger of being kicked.

It's a shame we don't have the Wizard of Oz on our side to help give our elected officials the tools they need.

If Oz was here he could give our officials a brain like the scarecrow received, a heart like the tin man received or courage like the lion. Imagine a world where our elected officials saw problems in recruiting and hiring public employees and had the courage to address the problem; a world where our elected officials had a brain to realize you can't keep paying people substandard wages and expect them to remain; a world where our officials had a heart, a brain and courage.

So when you read that the governor issued Administrative Order 237 to try and figure out why there is a retention problem, you need to stand up and speak up. Substandard wages, increasing health care costs, a gutted retirement system and the continued treatment of public employees as expendable has resulted in a void in the recruitment and hiring process. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what the problem is.

The state recently gave its commissioners 30- to 36-percent raises. They recognized they could not attract the quality of employees they wanted without offering fair wages. Yet at the same time, they are offering the supervisors 3- and 4-percent increases. It's not even close to keeping up with the cost of living adjustment. Then they wonder why no one is applying to be a supervisor. Go figure.

It would be nice if you could just click your heels together and say, "There's no place like public employment."

However, if you believe this, you just might want to look up and see if there are any flying monkeys coming your way.

College graduates are making choices for careers and they are not choosing to work for the state. As one engineering student said, "we may not be the best writers but we are pretty good at math, and the state's numbers fall way short compared to the private sector."

So the next time Gov. Palin issues an administrative order trying to figure out why no one is applying to be a state supervisor, let's hope that one of her fairly paid commissioners clicks his or her heels together and says, "There's no place like home," and offers decent wages so we'll be able to keep our college grads here in Alaska and recruit them for state government.

• Jim Orr is a resident of Fairbanks and is the northern field representative for the Alaska Public Employees Association.

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