Posts Tagged ‘Tanya Perrin-Johnson’

Byron Brown’s Shifting Response to City Worker Scandal

July 8, 2009
Got any State Department workers I can borrow?

Got any State Department workers I can borrow?

There are several interesting points about Byron Brown’s reaction to the city worker campaign “volunteer” scandal.  First, let’s take a look at the initial reaction . . .

After a Buffalo News reporter read the June 2 e-mail to Cutler, the mayor’s spokesman said he didn’t see a problem because the e-mails were sent and received through private accounts.

“Is there a coercive nature to these? I would say no,” Cutler said. “There’s no threat; I didn’t hear ‘Be there or else’ or ‘Your job is dependent on it,’ ” he said.

. . . and then the reaction once it became clear that the story had legs:

“I did not know the e-mails went out when they did,” Brown said. “These employees should not have been instructed to do any campaign volunteering during work hours. That is not how we do business and I do not support that. Campaigning is not in their job description, it is strictly voluntary.”

The mayor can’t have it both ways, can he?  He can’t claim one day that the emails are not a problem, and then that he’s opposed to them the next.  So which is it?  Of course, it could be that Cutler spoke off the cuff in the first response, but that’s doubtful.  Spokespeople don’t just make things up — they speak from their employer’s perspective, or they don’t speak at all.

The wording of Brown’s response is also interesting.  For one, he claims not to have known that the emails “suggesting” that city workers volunteer for his campaign “went out when they did.”  He isn’t denying knowledge of the emails, only knowledge of their timing.

He also says that employees shouldn’t have been “instructed” to do volunteer work during work hours.   Two issues here.  First, the use of the word instructed seems like an admission that these emails were more than a way of letting folks know about a volunteer opportunity.  And second, his stated objection seems to be to these emails being sent during work time, not to their being sent at all.

Given the contradiction between the two responses and the non-denial denial language of the second, I think it’s safe to assume that Cutler’s original response is the one that best matches the Brown administration’s stance on coercing city workers into working on his campaign.  They don’t see a problem with it.

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Getting Drafted Into Byron Brown’s Volunteer Army

July 6, 2009
perrin-johnson

What, me coerce?

Everyone knows that city workers are “encouraged” to work on the mayor’s political campaigns.  The problem has always been in documenting that encouragement, but Jim Heaney at the News got his hands on some emails from Community Services Commissioner Tanya Perrin-Johnson that do the trick:

Tanya Perrin-Johnson, commissioner of community services, has sent her staff a series of e-mails over the last month, informing them of opportunities to volunteer for the Brown campaign in language that appears to leave little doubt about what she expects.

“Your services are needed minimally 8 hours per week,” Perrin-Johnson wrote in a June 2 e-mail sent to 20 employees.

And not just at a time of their choosing. Perrin-Johnson specified a four-hour shift during the week—preferably Tuesdays, which is the department’s night at campaign headquarters — and another four hours on the weekend.

Perrin-Johnson said in her e-mail that “everyone is expected to be at the Headquarters after work” the following Tuesday because it was the first day that nominating petitions could be circulated for signatures.

If employees cannot work on the campaign on Tuesday or on a weekend, Perrin-Johnson wrote, “please notify myself and Dana Bobinchek at the email above and accommodations will be made for you to make up the time during the week.”

There are a few issues here, obviously.  First, the idea that people can “make up the time” if they can’t volunteer on a particular day seems to make it pretty clear that these city workers are being informed of an expectation rather than being presented with a volunteer opportunity.  If someone is telling you that you can “make up the time,” the clear implication is that they control your time.  That isn’t volunteering.  It’s work.

Second, no matter how the emails were worded, it’s hard to see how a request from a boss can be anything but coercive, despite Perrin-Johnson’s claims to the contrary.  These aren’t emails being sent between friends or even peers — they’re being sent from a boss to a group of workers.  Just as a boss can’t casually solicit “volunteers” to service him sexually and claim that there’s no coercion involved, neither can a boss’s “suggestion” that her workers help out on a campaign be taken as anything other than coercive.  And that’s particularly true when workers know that the boss’s job depends on the reelection of the mayor.

Finally, the story notes that at least one of the emails was sent just before 1 PM.  That’s the workday, even in City Hall.  It might be that Perrin-Johnson was on her lunch hour at that point, and it may be that she’s free to do anything she likes during her lunch hour.  But the idea that she stops being a city employee (and a boss) just because she has her lunch in front of her seems like a pretty flimsy defense to me.

I’ve been thinking about city workers campaigning on taxpayer time for a while now, so I did a little experiment back on June 22.  Jessica Maglietto, the coordinator for CitiStat Buffalo, was listed as the contact person on a flyer for a Byron Brown fundraiser.  I emailed her at 9:10 AM that day to ask a question about the event, and got a reply at 10:34AM that same day.  Maybe she’s taken a leave of absence to work on the mayor’s campaign, or maybe she was out sick that day.  Who knows?  But it’s telling that a city employee will give such a quick answer when the question is about helping the mayor to raise money, yet City Hall is notorious for being unresponsive to actual constituent demands.

And the best part of it all is that I’m giving $10 a month to an organization that happily endorsed all this shit!

Ugh.  Again.