A View From the Cheap Seats

September 24, 2008

One Expensive Tantrum

Beautiful plumage, The Norwegian Blue

Beautiful plumage, The Norwegian Blue



By Rich Trzupek

Delving into the strange world that is St. Charles city government takes a bit of getting used to. It’s a surreal world, where up is down, black is white and dogs use power tools. Quite frankly, it makes one’s head spin.

You’d have to hearken back to Monty Python’s venerable “Dead Parrot Sketch” to find people more disconnected from reality.

“Police sergeants have formed a union.’

No they haven’t!

“It’s been certified by the Illinois Labor Relations Board.”

Illinois what? Never heard of them!

“And we missed the deadline for appeal. Our case is dead.”

No it isn’t! See, it moved. It’s just stunned!

That pretty much sums up the case, if you can call it that, to this point. Oh you can read the transcripts, pore over the board’s decisions and study the law if you like, but save yourself the trouble. The above summation is really all you need.

As detailed in an editorial in The Examiner two weeks ago, the City of St. Charles seems determined to go down with this sinking ship, all guns blazing and the cost to taxpayers be damned.

The city’s current appeal is aimed at convincing a judge to order the Illinois Labor Relations Board (ILRB) to take a second look at the city’s case, and thus reverse their decision. This, in spite of the fact that – according to every labor relations attorney I have talked to (and your humble correspondent spends way too much time in the company of attorneys in the day job) – the ILRB reverses itself about as often as the city of Chicago elects a mayor with a last name that’s not “Daley”.

One must point out that there is at least one noble part in this pointless crusade: the administration’s continuing support of needy, out-of-state law firms. Rather than availing itself of a law firm located in – oh, I don’t know, “Chicago” springs to mind – the City generously exports litigation funds north of the border to the state famous for cheese, beer and legal advice that would make Denny Crain wince: Wisconsin.

There, the attorneys of Davis & Kuelthau, SC are burning the midnight oil in an attempt to convince a judge that seventeen equals fourteen. For that’s what this appeal boils down to. Having lost before the ILRB; and then having filed exceptions (essentially an attempt to have the ILRB overrule the Administrative Law Judge who made the decision) on day seventeen, instead of day fourteen as required by law; and then unable to convince the ILRB to take another look anyway; the attorney’s at Davis & Kuelthau SC want a judge to make ILRB do so.

Good luck with that.

This is kind of like you or I getting a speeding ticket in St. Charles and telling the City Attorney: “Yeah, I know that the sign said 25 mph, and honest to God I MEANT to go 25, but I screwed up and was doing 70 instead. Can’t you cut me a break?”

It’s always remarkable when government, which both delights in and relies on enforcing the letter of the law, feels that it should not be so constrained. Imagine what would happen if you built a new addition without a permit, failed to get a license for your business, or left your car in a “No Parking” zone. Would the City care why you screwed up? Would it matter if it was an innocent mistake? Or would the City say: “Rules are rules pal. Have a nice day, and don’t let the door hit you in the rump on the way out,” instead?

We all know the answer to those questions, but with the shoe on the other foot the City is stamping that foot like a child who refuses to believe that it’s bedtime, screaming “I don’t wanna!” and “It’s not fair!”, over and over again.

In these cases, every parent knows that the penalty gets more severe the longer the tantrum goes on. It will be the same for the City of St. Charles. Aside from the mounting legal bills, aside from poisoning the negotiating atmosphere before contract talks have even begun, it would not be surprising to find that the City finds itself sanctioned by the ILRB and, potentially, the Supreme Court of the State of Illinois.

The union’s lawyers have already filed a complaint with the Labor Relations Board, accusing St. Charles of negotiating in bad faith (only because “negotiating with no faith” is not a category, apparently). Illinois Supreme Court rules also allow for sanctions in the case of frivolous lawsuits. From this distance, it’s hard to see how this latest round of “tactics” by the City is anything but frivolous.

The good people who run The Examiner have asked me to take a closer look at the case, and I have had a chance to review the transcript of the hearing before the ILRB Administrative Law Judge. It’s fascinating reading.

We’re going to cover the transcripts, including some truly memorable testimony, over the next two or three weeks in a special series of articles. Stay tuned folks.

It gets better.


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