Editorial: Let the Man Work

Union leaders for city employees profess to be shocked that Mayor Ray Nagin asked for substantial salary increases for a handful of top advisers.

The union is also appalled at the "callous insensitivity to propose such mammoth increases without any recognition of the dire straits in which our public servants are doing their jobs," union organizer Wade Rathke told the mayor and New Orleans City Council Thursday.

Oh, please. No one can be shocked that Mayor Nagin pushed for pay hikes for the chief administrative officer, city attorney, intergovernmental affairs officer or public works, economic development and finance directors.

He has said from the early days of his candidacy that he wanted to increase pay for top city jobs in the hopes of luring highly talented people to work for city government. To pay for the increases, he promises to get rid of at least 10 percent of the more than 275 mayoral appointees on the city payroll.

This is hardly a radical approach to management. Paying fewer people more money to get better people in leadership positions is simply smart.

Getting the best people in key management jobs is the way Mayor Nagin hopes to improve efficiency at City Hall, which is the way he expects to be able to raise pay across the board eventually.

Of course, the mayor will have to followthrough on the promised cuts to make the strategy work, but there's every reason to believe he'll do as promised.

As for better wages for other city workers, many of whom are poorly paid, that is not something that can be accomplished in a week or two, which is how long Ray Nagin has been in office.

The Morial administration managed to come up with enough money for a 5-percent raise for city workers in 1999 but was unable to find the $20 million the Civil Service Commission said it would take to revamp the city's antiquated pay structure.

It is unrealistic to think that the nascent Nagin administration would already have a solution to such a long-simmering and complex problem.

Until his managers get to work, there is no way to know just how many city employees are needed to run an efficient, customer-friendly government. There is also no way to know how much money can be freed up in savings or where potential sources of new income might be found.

Mayor Nagin said Thursday that savings in the budget could be used to bring city salaries to market-level rates. That process may take two or three years to accomplish, he said. That's a sensible approach and a reasonable time frame.

Now union officials need to chill out and give the mayor a chance to do his job.

© The Times-Picayune. Used with permission.