The minute our new County Council members began to argue for having at least one meeting a month during the evening hours, to accommodate more working folks, the reaction of County Manager George Recktenwald was swift and predictable.
Just be aware, Recktenwald advised, that change will be expensive, because county employees will get in overtime.
Why? When private enterprise needs something done in the evenings, or on Saturdays, or Sundays, the person in charge changes the schedule and informs the affected employees that they will now work, for example, on Tuesday evening instead of Tuesday morning.
No overtime. We can’t afford it.
The Volusia County Council needs to at least try one evening meeting a month, to gauge whether that increases public participation. Not all residents can take off work during the daytime to come to a meeting to share their views on matters of public policy.
Recktenwald isn’t the first public official to react poorly to the suggestion of a private-enterprise-style adaptation.
We recall when Downtown DeLand merchants pointed out that trash collection in the central business district sometimes needed to happen on Saturdays or Sundays, especially following big events.
City Manager Michael Pleus had the same reaction: Just be aware, this will be costly, because city employees will have to be paid overtime.
Can we imagine what would happen if fast-food employees, or convenience-store workers, or restaurant staff, began demanding overtime pay for anything that doesn’t resemble bankers’ hours?
And, in many cases, these humble employees of private enterprise do not enjoy the retirement benefit or health care perks the government employees take for granted.
How about our police officers and firefighters? Are they also demanding that they be paid extra if they are expected to work any time other than between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday?
In the case of the County Council’s twice-a-month meetings, Recktenwald might argue that if county employees take the day off to attend a late-afternoon or evening meeting, those employees won’t be available to do their daytime work.
But that argument doesn’t hold. They weren’t available, anyway! They were attending the County Council meeting!
From Pierson to DeBary, including the West Volusia Hospital Authority and the Volusia County School Board, elected officials meet in the late afternoons or evenings.
We’re quite sure Recktenwald is clever enough to make this happen without adding to the taxpayer’s burden.
We salute those members of the Volusia County Council who recognized that having all of the council’s meetings during daytime hours does prevent many citizens from attending. We appreciate their effort to accommodate more residents.
Because that’s what this is all about: serving the people. Businesses do it because accommodating customers is what enables them to survive and thrive.
Local governments should do it because creativity, flexibility, efficiency and a willingness to put aside convention to create better customer service are attributes of governmental excellence.
And we deserve that.