Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Showing the unwelcome man to the door

This morning the only authorized bargaining agent for the City of St. Louis was thrown out of a closed-door meeting of the mayoral-appointed Civil Service Commission.

The St. Louis City Charter authorizes the director of Personnel to negotiate with unions representing civil service employees. Richard Frank currently holds that position, which also entails a responsibility as secretary to the Civil Service Commission.

"I attended this meeting this morning, which was about pending legal issues - basically, the city counselor was going to be offering legal advice to the commission," Frank just told me.

"My administrative assistant also attends meetings. I asked if she was needed. I was told she was not. And then I was also excused."

As reported on http://www.stlamerican.com/ yesterday, a number of unions are filing suit against the City, claiming that their negotiations with Frank were illegally undermined by Mayor Francis G. Slay, who appoints all three members to the Civil Service Commission.

Frank said he has been in his position since June 1, 2004 and been attending commission meetings "every two to three weeks" for more than four years. He said he has never before been asked to leave a meeting of the commission.

In the time had had on his hands after his forced exit from the meeting, perhaps Frank pondered Mayor Slay's new appetite for eating his own.

Frank told me, "My role is to keep politics out of the system, but I have learned when you do that you can get into trouble with the politicians."

Ironically, I saw the mayor himself this morning, roughly when Frank was being ejected from the commission meeting by his appointees. Ridiculously, the mayor was leaving a national black Teamsters conference where (according to protocol) he had been allowed to speak, briefly.

A local black Teamsters official told me that Slay's chief of staff Jeff Rainford had tried to pressure them into giving Slay an award this morning. The Teamsters balked. Rainford asked why. "Because we don't give awards to (expletives)," the Teamsters leader told us he told Rainford.

This same union man was showing Slay down the escalator at the Crowne Plaza Hotel this morning, as I was ascending to the conference on the facing escalator. I was being led by the hotel's director of sales. She doesn't know the power politics at play (who would want to?). She called to the Teamsters guy, innocently, at the top of her voice, that this was the editor of The St. Louis American.

We all had a long time to eye one another as the escalators moved us, slowly, toward and then past one another. At the mention of the name of the newspaper, the mayor looked, briefly, like someone had hit him in the backside with a cattle prod.

I waited upstairs, outside the conference meeting, for the Teamsters guy to show the mayor to the door and then come back up. The Teamsters leader looked happy to see me. I said, "Did we make the mayor pee his pants a little?"

Our guy said, "I think we made him pee his pants considerably."

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