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Mayor calls municipal workforce “unhealthy”

Nearly half of the active and retired city workforce suffer from illness, Rawlings-Blake says.

SRB gives change to grow address

Mayor Rawlings-Blake stands on the stage of Graham Auditorium today to deliver her tough medicine on Baltimore’s finances.

Photo by: Mark Reutter

Baltimore’s municipal workforce is not only expensive due to outmoded pension and health care benefits – it is also “unhealthy,” according to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

In a speech describing her 10-year plan for fiscal reform this morning, the mayor bluntly said, “Our workforce is unhealthy.” She explained that “nearly 50% of city employees and retirees have critical or chronic illness[es]” that drive up medical costs.

In a private conversation with municipal union leaders before the speech, Rawlings-Blake put the exact number of ill employees and retirees at between 46% and 48% of the workforce, according to two officials who attended the briefing.

When asked to break down that number between active employees and retirees, the mayor indicated that she did not know the answer and promised to get back with the information.

Ryan O’Doherty, the mayor’s chief spokesman, said after the speech that the figure of sick workers came from an earlier consultant’s study. He said he did not have on hand any specifics of the report’s findings.

Smaller-than-Expected Audience

Today’s speech was billed as a way for the mayor to discuss her ambitious plan for fiscal reform with hundreds of city stakeholders.

Due to limited seating at the Graham Auditorium at the Walters Art Museum, the event was held on an RSVP-only basis, with members of the public required to submit their names to the mayor’s office by last Friday.

As it turned out, Graham Auditorium was half empty, with only about a dozen seats on the second-floor balcony – reserved for the public – filled.

Altogether about 130 people attended, a large number of whom were department heads, mayoral staff and elected officials.

City Councilman Robert Curran, Deputy Chief of Operations Khalil Zaied and Fire Chief James S. Clack listen to today's speech at Walters Art Gallery. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

L to r: Councilman Robert Curran, Deputy Chief of Operations Khalil Zaied and Fire Chief James S. Clack listen to today’s speech at Walters Art Museum. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

Working through a PowerPoint presentation, the mayor repeated the main points of the plan she unveiled in her State of the City address last week – reforming employee pensions and health benefits, instituting longer service hours for firefighters, and lowering property taxes to make the city more economically competitive with surrounding counties.

To combat the municipal workforce’s poor health profile, the mayor pledged to expand disease management and wellness initiatives with a “significant commitment of city funding and support.”

She said the city would initiate an “eligibility audit” for health benefits, to ensure that all city premium payments are directed for workers and dependents legitimately covered by the plans.

Other than this reference to audits, the mayor did not address, or endorse, the role of audits to examine the spending habits of city agencies.

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of her plan – to assess a yearly fee to collect residential trash and recycling – was noted without any details of the fees proposed or level of service. The mayor did pledge to use the funds collected from the trash fee to lower property taxes “dollar for dollar.”

A New Urban Story

Beginning her speech by noting that Baltimore lost more than a third of its population since 1950, she said “a new urban story” is beginning to emerge.

“Population loss is slowing to a near halt, and many neighborhoods are experiencing new growth. Baltimore is safer, public education is improving with growing enrollment, more vacants are being rehabbed and our businesses and institutions have made new investments,” she said.

The purpose of the fiscal reforms – which include some 100 separate proposals – is to maintain the city’s upward momentum, she said, and “grow” the population by 10,000 new families.

The reforms are based on a $460,000 report by Philadelphia-based PFM Group, with supplemental material provided by the Hay Group, Walker Benefit Services and Advanced Benefits Solutions. A 24-page color booklet distributed today lists 15 consultants who worked on the report.

City Councilmen William F. Cole III, Edward Reisinger and Brandon Scott participated in three project teams set up to develop the new policies. They were joined by city department heads led by Finance Director Harry Black and included two non-government representatives – Donald Fry, CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, and Darrell J. Gaskin, of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

No representatives from community groups were listed as participants in the project teams.

The mayor was today introduced by Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), who later endorsed the idea of making Baltimore a student-friendly, high-tech city during a question-and-answer period.
____________________________
To download the 10-year financial report, issued in full today:
http://finance.baltimorecity.gov/bureausandoffices/budgetmanagementresearch/TenYearPlanBackgroundReport.pdf

 

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  • trueheart4life
  • ushanellore

    Of course they are unhealthy–she is contributing to this state with her austerity mantra.  What’s her role in the unhealthiness?  The workers are being told their jobs will be cut, their chunk of co-pays for health care will go up, their chunk for retirement contributions will increase, their retirement benefits will decrease, their health care plans will be shaky, their pay will increase but she’ll come and grab what she can get from the change in their pockets–give me a break–she expects these guys to be happy and healthy specimens of the species Homosapiens? 

    Man, Homohabilis had it better–hunted, ate, bred and went to sleep and there was no SRB to worry about.  If she had been around then and if a mammoth was slaughtered she would have taken all the meat on the ground and stored it in her own special cave where no one would have been able to reap the rewards of the hunt except her own cabal of cavemates.

    • davethesuave

      ushanellore,
      i love your postings, and your sense of humor.  and while i take a back seat to no one when it comes to my mayoral disdain, i think your well-beaten path lead you to a dead end this time.  you actually want to link workers’ health, or lack of it, to fiscal policies?  those jobs are generally and relatively pretty well-compensated;  try working for a private trash collection and see how you like the pay scale.  no, it is my opinion that American health is lousy in general, and while there is some degree of stress involved, i would think the average great American diet, and “life-style choices”, are the primary factors.  there will never be a time when humans are not doing their damnedest to pollute themselves; in the meantime, it would be ameliorating to hunt something other than the next slow-moving Fatburger, breed somewhat more selectively, and forego that final cigarette before the dimming of the day.  We have met the enemies, and they within us as well as without us.

    • discer

      WTF!!! you can’t be serious. Pointless ranting.

      • ushanellore

         WTF it’s you again!  Unfortunate!  Go away!

      • Day_Star

        Discer, if you’re going to object to something or criticize someone’s opinion, be constructive.  Spiteful comments like that ruin the discourse and make you look like a meat head whose opinion isn’t worth a second of one’s time.

        For example, you could have told Ushanellore that Baltimore City can’t keep on spending money at its current levels — Baltimore isn’t the federal government and doesn’t have a AA bond rating.  The Chinese wouldn’t touch Baltimore debt with a 10 foot pole.  Those who criticize the mayor — who is far from infallible — on getting tough with finances and being mean spirited have no rational alternative solution that doesn’t result in a failed attempt for a state or federal bailout (not happening) and an eventual state takeover. 

    • http://profiles.google.com/jamiehunt344 James Hunt

      ushanellore:

      “… Man, Homohabilis had it better–hunted, ate, bred and went to sleep and
      there was no SRB to worry about.  If she had been around then and if a
      mammoth was slaughtered she would have taken all the meat on the ground
      and stored it in her own special cave where no one would have been able
      to reap the rewards of the hunt except her own cabal of cavemates.”

      +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

      Interesting. Tuesday (2/19)  the Wall Street Journal printed a letter from a chap in Ft. Worth, TX–prompted by Ben Carson’s remarks at the Prayer Breakfast the president attended–making essentially the same point about government generally, only from a Biblical perspective. Here it is, in part (copyright and all that):

      “… A better scriptural reference is found in I Samuel 8:14-17 in which
      God warns what the government of a king, which the people wanted so they
      could be like other nations, will demand of them.”He will take the best
      of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his
      attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and
      give it to his officials and attendants. Your male and female servants
      and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He
      will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his
      slaves.”

      “Samuel warned that the government would
      consider itself equal to God in what it demanded. Our government has
      gone well beyond that.

      “David Vargha

      Fort Worth, Texas”

  • dollarsandsense1

    I think the point of the Mayors plan/message is getting lost in the sound bite that the article is sensationalizing.  Generally business productivity and in turn profitability is affected by workers health. http://www.prevent.org/data/files/News/pfcdalmanac_excerpt.pdf
    The City savings would be ultimately passed on to the citizens via lower taxes or redistributed to make other substantive changes.  It just common sense to provide incentives for employees to improve health, for making changes across the spectrum to improve the City as the place to live, work and play.  It would be helpful for the media provide the sounding board for that message instead of the detraction that this article portrays.  It is all of our responsibilities to work towards the goal of improving the quality of life for the community that we call home.  We need to attack it from all sides improving education, environment and public safety for all of our citizens.  Whether you live, work or visit the City of Baltimore this message needs to be clear and we want you to improve yourself first, your family and the neighborhood that you live, where ever you live.  This is the real message that we need to take away, not to provide another dig at government workers.   Would you employ us?  The City needs to provide a work environment to promote work excellence to foster academic growth and improve overall health, not just physical but mental, is the way to achieve the goals set forth in the Mayors plan.  Wake up and get moving!  We all have work to do! The Mayor needs not just to be the voice but the leader and motivator! 

  • William Hudson

    The reason no one attended is because we have heard it all before.   This city hasnt grown since the 1950′s as a result of poor policies from City Hall that have pushed the middle class out of Baltimore, with Mayor Blake all we are getting is more of the same tired old policy that more taxes and fee’s are the answer.  EVERY independent study of how to grow Baltimore City begins with the same thought -” cutting city property taxes and fee’s that are double that of surrounding counties is step one”.  So far the only thing that has grown since her politically driven “doomsday study” is her own buracracy. 

  • Gerald Neily

    I wonder how many of the health problems of half the city employees are MENTAL health problems? And what is the correlation to years of service? Is it a cumulative effect of years working for the city (adjusting for age of course)? Or does the city recruit and/or attract the  potentially unhealthy ones from the start? Or is it environmental factors? The city tries to recruit city residents, and studies aleady show that living in much of the city is hazardous to one’s health.

    • Joe Six-Pac

      Gerald,

      I just had to respond to this to clear up this common misconception. Living in the city is not hazardous to your health – Poverty is hazardous to your health.

      The study you are referencing (incorrectly) did a comparison of life expectancy and neighborhoods and found that many low-income city neighborhood had lower life expectancy than the national average, but the more affluent ones such as Roland Park and Little Italy were actually substantially higher.

      The reasoning was less access to healthcare, lack of insurance, and lack of easily accessible nutritious foods. The moral is, you can place a poor population such as a public housing complex (which is 5% of Baltimore residents) anywhere in the US and end up with the same results, there is nothing “environmental” about the city which leads to health issues.

      Please don’t spread false stereotypes about city living when trying to make a point. Someone may unfortunately believe your nonsense not take the time to look up that you are completely and utterly wrong.

      • Gerald Neily

        Joe, thanks for setting me straight. Please strike my last sentence from the record.

  • Day_Star

    How is everyone missing the real story here????  When there’s smoke, there’s fire.  46-48% chronic ilness — no freakin’ way!  What extra benefits does one get by claiming a disability? 

  • BmoreFree

    It is a good plan and I support it. Not all of it, but a great majority of it. It shifts city revenues away from being an employer towards building and maintaining infrastructure the city needs to grow.

    The workforce is unhealthy, but I think this is mostly due to individual lifestyle choices and the overall education level of city employees. The bigger story is the city’s shift in focus from employment to infrastructure.

  • http://jtf.org/forum/index.php/board,1.0.html JTF DOT ORG

    People say that city workers are incompetent and lazy, but it is clear they are quite competent in working the system to squeeze every sick benefit out of the tax payer. These do-nothing “public servants” spend their entire lives coming up with excuses not to do work so they can make it to retirement and continue to not work. City bureaucracy is nothing but a glorified make-work program for totally unqualified people of the Baltimore metro area (most of whom do not even live in Baltimore and thus could not care how much tax payer money they steal). I look forward to the day when citizens of Roland Park, Homeland, Federal Hill, etc…. threaten to no longer fund this madness.

    And yes we have been hearing the “population decline is about to stop” line since 1999. There is no point to go to meetings that we already attended in 2003, 2007, and 2009. These presentations are nothing but a show.

  • ushanellore

    Thank you James Hunt–I enjoyed that.

  • Matthew Riesner

    This mayor is a complete and total nut…she is just defending the overweight sisters of this city to keep them voting for her. Maybe if they stopped hiring so many overweight people we would have a healthier city workforce. Go to city hall, the school board, the police, etc., they are all overweight and many of them do whatever it takes to not work.

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