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Revote on Tosa union contracts draws open meetings complaint

April 18, 2011
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By Mike Johnson of the Journal Sentinel

April 18, 2011 0

Wauwatosa - A resident on Monday filed a complaint alleging that a number of aldermen violated the state's open meetings law and took part in a conspiracy to hold a special Common Council meeting Tuesday night to overturn a vote last month not to approve several union contracts.

Stanley L. Zurawski Sr. has asked the state attorney general's office to investigate his complaint.

Ald. Donald Birschel and Linda Nikcevich, who were among five council members who called for the special session, said Zurawski's complaint has no merit.

On March 15, the council was scheduled to approve a series of labor contracts with local unions. But more than 100 people showed up at City Hall, nearly all of them to oppose the contracts, and the council ended up rejecting the pacts.

Zurawski said Monday that he and other residents want the council to hold off on approving contracts until after Gov. Scott Walker's measures that eliminate most collective bargaining for public employees can take effect. The law setting up those measures is being challenged in court.

But the council has scheduled a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday to vote on whether to ratify collective bargaining agreements with three labor unions.

Birschel and Nikcevich said they are seeking another vote on the contracts because the concessions in the agreements would save the city more money than Walker's measures.

Birschel said the city stands to save about $1.07 million a year under the contracts.

The law, which Walker championed, requires most public employees to pay half the cost of their pensions - typically 5.8% of pay - and 12.6% of health care costs. None of those changes applies to police officers, firefighters, sheriff's deputies or state troopers.

Wauwatosa employees don't participate in the state's health care plan, so that portion of the Walker measures would not apply to them.

But under the proposed contracts, Wauwatosa employees would pay between 10% and 20% of health care costs, Birschel and Nikcevich said Monday.

Retired employees also would pay 5%. Walker's measures don't cover retired workers, Birschel said.

And under the proposed contracts, employees covered under those pacts would start making pension contributions immediately, she said.

The city could have been saving at least $12,000 to $20,000 a week had those contracts been approved last month, Nikcevich said.

Both aldermen said the state's open meetings law was not violated when they called for the special meeting.

The city has a provision that allows aldermen to file a petition calling for a special session. That's what they did, Nikcevich said. The petition was signed by five aldermen, including Nikcevich and Birschel.

In his complaint, Zurawski alleges that Birschel "claims to have the names of 11 aldermen who are on board and they have agreed to overturn the March 15th, 2011, action, and this constitutes a walking quorum, which is illegal."

"All of this conspiring was done secretly and intentionally to avoid an overwhelming turnout of citizens voicing their objections as they did at the March 15th public hearing in Wauwatosa," Zurawski states.

Birschel said none of that is true.

"We have never had an illegal meeting," he said.

Except for the five aldermen who signed the petition requesting the meeting, Birschel said he does not know how any other aldermen will vote.

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