Credit Where Credit Is Due
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If there's any aspect of East End life that demonstrates the value of a relentless investigative newspaper, it's County Road 39. This week County Executive Steve Levy heralded a plan to continue "The Municipal Miracle" expanding CR 39 entails.
Kudos to Levy for delivering a wider road that makes any commute that much less of a nightmare. But, The Indy remembers getting there was not fun.
One Friday afternoon in 2005, The Independent sat with Legislator Jay Schneiderman to review Levy's proposed capital budget. We learned the county executive's document postponed any work of any kind on CR 39 for years.
Indy alerted Southampton lawmakers (who should have been following the progress already) and after many bitter words between Levy, then-Supervisor Skip Heaney and then Councilwoman Linda Kabot, not to mention Schneiderman, plus a series of Independent articles, including several cover stories calling the CE to task for stalling the widening of the Paseo de Muerte (aka Road of Death), Levy came up with a way to get the job done at a significantly reduced cost. It was going to cost $70 million, he brought in a revised expansion project for $17 million.
Not only did the county complete the road widening at a lower cost, but, pressured to find a way to get the job done, Levy's engineers developed a strategy they subsequently used to widen County Road 58 in Riverhead.
The Independent is particularly proud of the role it played in a "Municipal Miracle" that benefits anyone who travels the once-horrific highway.
Now, Steve, anything you can do about that excruciating 35 mph speed limit?
Unions were conceived because workers were being exploited, and the growth of unions for a century paralleled the growth of the middle class. Unions still play an important role in many industries, making sure the wealth is distributed to the rank and file rather than hoarded by greedy owners.
Many times, though, unions have overplayed their hands. In Detroit, for example, the United Auto Workers used political might – and huge political donations – to price themselves right out of the market. Factory workers were paid considerably more than the task they were asked to perform warranted. That in turn, gave rise to overseas carmakers that could produce better cars at cheaper prices. Now Detroit and other Michigan cities are practically ghost towns.
Now, a financial crisis is shaking up even our most powerful unions, even the formidable New York State teachers' unions. Having negotiated themselves exorbitant pay increases and lush medical and retirement benefits, the time has come to face the harsh realties – the state doesn't have the money to fund the system any longer.
Reform is in the air – a proposed freeze on school taxes will mean layoffs – and the call to lay off teachers based on performance instead of tenure is a nationwide trend.
The teachers have only themselves to blame – the image of hundreds of teachers parading through Sag Harbor demanding raises at a time when the entire nation was economically crippled remains vivid. Poster children for the selfish and greedy, they still haven't realized that many of the onlookers had recently lost their jobs, that some were threatened with foreclosure, and that most worked many more hours for much less pay.
That said, reversing the "last in first out" layoff policies of our schools is fraught with danger. Unless an effective way to evaluate teachers is devised, school districts could remove our highest paid teachers just to save money and meet the budget – even if they are the best teachers. That must never be allowed to happen. The unions must work with school districts to rate teacher performance, and we must keep the best and brightest, regardless of length of service, if layoffs are necessary.
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