BPU member Jones seeking freeze? Redemption?

Am I in an alternate reality? I asked that question to another reporter last night as BPU board member Mark Jones (pictured at far left) called for a wage freeze for management and nonunion employees. The other five board members and General Manager Don Gray looked like they were choking on their tongues as Jones talked about freezing wages to avoid layoffs.

Jones said a couple of 

customer service employees told him they’d never heard so many

complaints from people unable to pay their bills. Other employees told him that they’d rather have no raise than no job. He said a 4 percent freeze could save the utility $800,000 or more.

“I

just think it’s fair to the utility as a whole, to the people that work

here and to the ratepayers that we consider freezing management’s and

staff wages temporarily, till we determine what the economy is going to

bring,” Jones said.

Jones made his motion. The room sat silent for a couple of seconds. No one seconded. The motion died.

The budget passed 5-1; Jones cast the only “no” vote.

The

freeze would have been a token move in a $303.3 million budget. Still, it would have been the board’s best

PR gambit. Colombel

said the utility avoided “drastic measures” because the utility

decreased its budget. She said Gray would be evaluating benefits and

salaries utility-wide in 2009. Instead, Colombel wished everyone

a merry Christmas.

During board comments, Jones didn’t pass. “I do think it’s a slap in

our customers’ faces to give ourselves a $1 million raise when there’s

so many people unemployed in this country, in this city that we live

in. I think everyone could have given in a little bit and done their

part since the community and the board has done so much for them.

That’ll be all.” 

This is the same Mark Jones who rarely — if ever — speaks at

meetings. The same Jones who just a couple weeks ago attended a

fundraiser for indicted BPU official Marc Conklin. The same Jones who

motioned to raise board member pay in March 2004 (the only motion many

board watchers could recall him making). Had Jones come to Jesus? Or

was he just angling for another term on the board?

I spoke with Jones for the first time after the meeting. He seemed

disappointed in his colleagues. He also

said a cut in board-member wages was an option. I was frozen in my tracks. — Justin Kendall

Categories: News, Politics