11/12/07

Police union organizes by spreading distrust

The dirty little secret of much state and local government is found not in any particular law or regulation, nor in a specific, impassioned press conference about this or that; not even in the passing of envelopes full of cash, or other forms of grandiose graft and corruption.

No, that kind of stuff is the anecdote and sound bite of politics and government. The under-the-radar, corrosive aspect of government that is most damaging is subtle cynicism; the knowing smile and resigned shoulder shrug that come with the understanding that nothing is as important as self-interest, that “public service” is an inconvenience to be overcome in favor of something less transcendent.

Even the most honest, earnest, well-meaning purveyor of “good government” can fall victim to a culture that manufactures damaging or fatal cynicism and despair.

Ponder the realities of the process by which state police lieutenants and captains in Connecticut are now poised to become labor union members.

The tendency would be to focus on the disgraceful intricacies of state labor law that apparently allow senior managers of the state police enterprise to organize as if they were long-haul truckers, coal miners or farm workers.

The tendency would be to focus on the public tap dance of someone such as Attourney General Richard Blumenthal, who, after remembering that he is an elected Democratic politician, has bailed out of representing the Office of Policy and Management in its appeal of the decision to allow the senior cops to organize.

The tendency would be to focus on the impassioned rhetoric of the union stooges, who act as if state police lieutenants and captains work in the textile mill, next to Norma Rae, and are being oppressed by the mean old bureaucrats at OPM.

The tendency would be to focus on OPM Secretary Robert Genuario, who questions whether senior management of the state cops can be loyal to the agency that they manage and, at the same time, operate on behalf of their bargaining unit.

Spreading Distrust

Yes, inquiring journalists and interested members of the public can meander from legal opinion to press conference to anecdote to political tap dance, looking for the “right answer” to the question of whether the state’s senior cops are indeed little more than file clerks in need of special protection from perhaps working a few extra hours, without overtime pay.

But the damage already has been done. Whether or not OPM is successful in its appeal of the Kangaroo Court ruling from the State Board of Labor Relations; whether or not the state police commissioner is going to be able to have a chat with his captains and lieutenants, without a team of labor lawyers present; the cynical cancer has already settled in and spread.

The very fact that the state police organizing effort has gone along as far as it has—without a peep of protest from the Democratic majority in the General Assembly, without 10 professors, six lawyers, three management consultants and a partridge in a pear tree standing up and saying, “are you nuts?” confirms that state government culture reinforces the hopelessness of real reform, reinforces the perception of the general public as an enemy to be resisted or ignored.

Once that kind of mindset establishes itself, it matters little whether every so often, the “public” scores a victory against lunacy. The instinct to view public service as a shrug and a grin can become impossible to eradicate.

A Boston Globe investigation of the Boston city cops in 2005 discovered that 19 police officers earned more than $200,000 in 2004 -- due in part to the union contract with the “Boston Police Superior Officers Federation”—the managers and supervisors who don’t apparently manage or supervise.

Will OPM win its legal argument to stave off the unionization of the state cop managers? Probably not. This isn’t about logic or good government. Lurking in most public-sector labor legislation and legal interpretation is a presumption of coverage that no sissy-judge in a Democratic state such as Connecticut is going to fool with.

And at the end of the day, nobody much will care. The boys and girls in Hartford will smile their little smiles, shrug their shoulders and explain that this is just how things are. Cynicism triumphs over efficiency, logic and effective government.

(hartfordbusiness.com)

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