Last week, Oak Leaves ran an article about a “field trip” for finance and parking employees, organized by Pamela Thomas Hall, deputy chief financial officer. The article quoted an unnamed union employee who was upset with the overtime money being spent to “become acquainted with parking lots.” The three Saturday overtime junkets included being treated to lunch at taxpayer expense, and a little shopping trip as well.

The morning the story ran, I received an e-mail from the Chief Financial Officer Craig Lesner, asking sarcastically whether I was against all overtime or just overtime for my bargaining unit members. I replied, “Craig, I certainly do not begrudge any of our members or anyone else’s overtime. God knows we all need it. But I must say I am very surprised that a financial person, such as you, cannot distinguish between need and frivolousness, particularly when the budget is purportedly in such crisis that we have left several people without jobs. Overtime to sell permits? Sure. Overtime for public record minutes? Sure. Overtime to clean streets? Sure. But overtime to get acquainted with parking garages? Come on. This beats the PeopleSoft thing.”

A response from Mr. Lesner was basically a typical PR spin attempting to defend the indefensible by calling the junkets necessary for good public service. As I responded, I am all for good customer service. Let’s ask our residents: Does it make you feel all warm and fuzzy, when you are paying your ticket, that the person taking care of you is acquainted with your parking space? Are there other ways you think the money might be used? Maybe you would like to see parking signs that do not require decoding? How about a phone system that doesn’t lose you in a maze of voicemail?

As a union member, I find it very telling that a finance director is trying to hold overtime over my head as a way to shut me up. The unions have been painted by management and, too often, by the local press (particularly Wednesday Journal) as greedy, lazy individuals who just want to soak the taxpayers. The fact that a union employee blew the whistle on this ridiculous waste of money would seem to belie that characterization.

Some of us live in Oak Park and some of us don’t, but most of us do not like to see wasteful spending, especially in a time when near a dozen employees have lost their jobs to budget cuts. The amount in question here may be small, but it is an indication of a lack of accountability. One employee was willing to come forward. We must wonder what other employees might be able to tell us.

Though the article was printed in the Oak Leaves, I am curious as to whether the Wednesday Journal is willing to put aside Mr. Haley’s painfully obvious antipathy for union workers long enough to print this letter.

Liz Melara is a 31-year Oak Park resident who has worked as a secretary in the community relations department for 17 years.

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