Sunday, February 15, 2015

Cult, clan, family, or something else

One of the dramatic remarks made by a member of the fire company at 2/12/2015 Newfield Borough Council meeting was to the effect that the Council didn't get it: the fire company was a family and that an attack on one of them was an attack on all.  I know that some of the fire company members believe that even if they replaced the fire chief with someone else, that person would be under the same onslaught of scrutiny and demands from the Borough Council, that what the Borough Council wants is a puppet and won't be satisfied until they have one.  Legitimate fears but not a reason to not negotiate.

To me, this has tipped over from family members caring and supporting each other almost to the paranoiac thinking of a backwoods clan or a modern day cult.  After one contentious council meeting there were supposed to be negotiations for a contract between the fire company and the council.  Every date offered by the Council was not one that the fire chief could attend, so the fire company did not negotiate.  In my opinion, that was nonsensical thinking, any members of the fire company could have been designated to attend and listen, it doesn't have to be the fire chief.  Decisions made at negotiations are not whether to accept or reject an offer but whether to take an offer back to either party for a decision.  It makes perfect sense to not show up though for a cult, which only speaks through its leader.

In my limited experience with union negotiations for a contract (oh, yes, I have walked a picket line even as an engineer), a few people from each side meet to present their positions and explore where there might be room for compromise.  Offers and counteroffers are made until there is a vote by the membership on the final offer of the company.  Sometimes the contract is accepted; sometimes it is rejected but the union agrees to go on negotiating using the previous contract; sometimes there is a strike; sometimes there is a lockout.  So far in this multi-year saga, we've had a brief lockout by the Council before negotiations even were offered, a strike now because the contract offered has been not been negotiated (because the fire company only thought the fire chief should negotiate), and operating as if the previous contract was in effect albeit while legal efforts went forward.   Such a mess.

I have tried to find the correct ordinance as there have been several versions.  I wanted to know if there was a detail about what "reports" should be provided if the ordinance is treated as a contract offer.  I can't find it.  But if it is vague, contract negotiations either clear that up or there are memorandum of understanding attached to the contract that would detail the format, content, timeliness, and method of delivery for reports.  Memorandums of understanding are desired because they can be changed during a contract with full agreement from both sides.  There are often technological or economic reasons to change memorandums of understanding but it is not done unilaterally.

Another memorandum of understanding could have addressed the fire company's fears of becoming the puppet of the Borough Council by spelling out the scope of any approvals of members or officers.  After all, the original decision by the Court excised right of the Council to officer approval from the ordinance.

But, of course, this is not a union negotiation, nor a negotiation at all.  Just a big emotional blowout on both sides, way beyond logic or sense or thought of the consequence for the town.  Each side believes they are right and they know what is best and there is no changing of opinion or action towards compromise.  Is there cult thinking both sides? I don't know, but the fire company certainly presents that way in my layman's opinion.

One more thing - there is often intense abhorrence of individuals by individuals on the opposing sides of a negotiation but it doesn't interfere or stop the negotiation.  Sometimes it creates a cold war with outbursts such as Krushchev pounding his shoe at the UN.  But, cooperation on treaties and humanitarian matters still happened through the negotiations of diplomats, not the presidents or premiers.

Well, may be one more thing - some members of Council seem to believe they live or should be living in a pretty, little subdivision where neighbors never violate the neighborhood covenants on external appearance of houses or yards.  Thank heaven they haven't yet extended that notion to house colors.

There are members of my family who will be offended by this post.  They should remember their aunt always speaks her mind, more like their grandmother than their grandfather.  I can not apologize for being myself.

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