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Friday, April 13, 2012

SCHEPER RAPPORT: MAYOR'S DEMEANOR HELPS WIN AGREEMENT ON UNION CONTRACTS

by Michael Monks 
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THE RIVER CITY NEWS MORE COVINGTON NEWS THAN ANY OTHER SOURCE
Mayor Scheper announces agreements between City
and its three public employee unions
One hundred seventy-one days ago retired insurance executive Chuck Scheper stood before the citizens of Covington and reluctantly accepted the role as their mayor. Friday morning Scheper stood in the exact same spot inside City Hall's Commission Chambers and proclaimed his largest success yet: winning an agreement from all three public employee unions that will save Covington $10 million over the next five years. Contract negotiations that started two years ago, reaching a boiling point last summer with harsh back-and-forth rhetoric from city administration, union members, city commissioners, and then-Mayor Denny Bowman, finally ended this week. Scheper's entry into the discussion is largely credited. 
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"Once the mayor came on board things started to pick up," said Steve Hedger, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees chapter that represents 911 dispatchers, public improvement employees, and clerical workers in Covington. AFSCME's expected approval of its contract next Tuesday will follow this week's approval by Covington's Fraternal Order of Police and Local 38 of the International Association of Firefighters. 
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"Were it not for these changes we would be facing a very different future," Scheper said. The costs associated with America's health care system and its effect on the budgets of families and municipalities had weighed heavily on Covington's finances and negotiating table. Friday, it was announced that Scheper and the city's negotiating team and the unions agreed to three health care concessions that will require from employees an increased premium, a basic deductible, and an 80/20 co-insurance feature to a maximum out-of-pocket amount. 
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"Without (Scheper's) involvement I don't think these deals would have been done," said Brian Valenti, FOP president. "We wanted a fair deal. The city was able to get the health care they wanted while allowing us to stay competitive with other agencies." The contracts allow for annual pay raises from 1.5 to 3 percent. Valenti was the first union leader to approach the mayor and express an eagerness to reach a contract agreement following the January 31 state of the city address. 
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"I got to know these guys on a personal level," Scheper said. "(Union leaders) worked diligently on a resolution that considered the current financial position of the city as well as the best interest of their members. While we did not always agree on the issues we were able to maintain a healthy and respectful dialogue." Prior to Scheper taking over as mayor following Denny Bowman's surprise resignation last fall, the negotiations spilled into public view through heated arguments at commission meetings and on Facebook pages but since then the debate had maintained a quieter presence with only occasional lapses. 
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"Things were a little too hot, a little too personal," said Commissioner Steve Frank who was frequently at the center of the rhetorial bomb throwing. On Friday, Frank, and Commissioners Sherry Carran, Steve Casper, and Shawn Masters all showed their support and enthusiasm for the agreements and for moving their focus to economic development. "He is respectful, he's inclusive and he really does listen and makes you feel like are part of what's going on," Carran said of the mayor. Casper called the agreements a "remarkable success".
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"The city's firefighters are very pleased to have come to an agreement with the city," said Chris Black, president of the firefighters union which was the most vocal during the public debate over the new contracts. "The real winner here in all of this was the collective bargaining process. While the firefighters made considerable sacrifices, we got the chance to negotiate the best deal for our members while the city received the concessions they were looking for." 
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Scheper had listed new union contracts among his ten-point plan of action that he hopes to fulfill during his one year in office, much of which originated in his 1999 Scheper Report, a list of recommendations for Covington to take to avoid financial catastrophe initiated by then-Mayor Bowman. Few of the suggestions were ever adopted but the new contract agreements may be the most important check mark he adds to the revised and updated list. With its projected $20 million budget deficit by the year 2017, Covington's financial prognosis was looking dark so at his state of the city address when he unveiled his ten-point plan, Scheper delivered what he called "the brutal facts" which included the looming crisis. He announced that same night that he hoped to have new union contracts within sixty days, and while Friday morning was thirteen days longer than that, the agreements represent a feat that has offset roughly half of that projected deficit. 
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Friday's news followed last week's decision that Kenton County would assume responsibility for Covington's 911 emergency dispatch center, another check mark on Scheper's ten-point plan. Combined with the estimated $5 million saved from the dispatch acquisition, the $10 million saved in these new contracts mean that the city has erased nearly three-quarters of that projected $20 million deficit. 
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"Approximately twenty-five percent of the projected deficit still needs to be addressed," Scheper said, "but we are hopeful that the independent reviews (of each department within City Hall) which are currently in process will produce recommendations to make up this difference." The focus now turns more intensely to filling vacant store fronts and attracting new businesses and other items on that ten-point plan.
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"You're going to start seeing some of these C+V=G signs appearing in some of those empty storefronts," Scheper said of a plan to help change the message Downtown and to spread his mantra that Courage plus Vision equals Growth for Covington.  At next Tuesday's city commission meeting the new contract agreements are expected to be unanimously approved. Following the vote Scheper will have approximately two-hundred fifty days left in office to accomplish the rest of the ten points of his plan, something he believes will happen, though in no particular order. "All of them are running on this parallel track," he said.
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MORE PHOTOS FROM THE ANNOUNCEMENT BELOW, JUST CLICK THE LINK!
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Chris Black, Local 38 president

Brian Valenti, FOP president

Steve Hedger, AFSCME president

Julie Geisen-Scheper, Mayor's wife

Commissioner Sherry Carran

Commissioner Steve Frank

Commissioner Steve Casper

"Hats off" to the employees

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