Tuesday, October 03, 2006


Matthew Hill Ignores, Angers the 7th District, Votes Against Business

Again, I was looking at some old issues of the Johnson City Press and I found many stories that highlighted Matthew Hill’s incompetence. The following are some examples:

In the June 4 Johnson City Press, Matthew Hill is sharply criticized for his lack of leadership:
You can’t trust legislators who only look out for themselves
A couple of questions have nagged me in the past week, such as how can a conservative Republican lawmaker from Upper East Tennessee carry legislative water for big labor, and how can we be expected to trust the state General Assembly when it hikes the pensions of its members in the final hours of the session?

Let’s start with the first question, which also has perplexed and infuriated municipal leaders here for two years. In particular, local government leaders have been wondering why Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, lent his name to a bill that analysts for the Tennessee Municipal League said would give organized labor a foothold in local government. State law presently prohibits municipal employees from joining labor unions.

Last year, Hill signed on to a bill (pushed by one of the House’s most liberal members, Rep. Sherry Jones, DNashville) to allow full-time firefighters to bargain collectively on matters concerning pay and benefits.

The freshman lawmaker has balked at suggestions he was backing a union bill, and instead claimed the legislation simply would give firefighters an exclusive audience with city officials on such issues. Why wouldn’t Hill want to grant sanitation workers, police officers and other city employees the same collective-bargaining perk?

Perhaps he would, had they been members of a professional association that gave him a campaign contribution and a public endorsement in the 2004 election.

That’s certainly what happened in the case of the Johnson City Professional Firefighters Association. It’s interesting to note this same group backed City Commissioner Pete Paduch in his last re-election campaign.

Administrators in Johnson City say firefighters, like all municipal employees, already have access to City Hall. Hill’s support of the union bill has left many local government officials suggesting he is more of a hindrance than a help to them on Capitol Hill.

The firefighter union bill was killed in the Senate on the last day of the 104th General Assembly, which ended late in the night May 27 after lawmakers rewarded themselves with a pension hike. Granted, the pension increase was modest, but that doesn’t excuse the backroom politics it took to grease its passage.

Many attacked the news media for making a mountain of what they considered to be a mole hill. If that was truly the case, why were they so sneaky about it? And, as I asked earlier in this column, how can we trust the General Assembly when it takes up such matters hours before adjourning for the year? We can’t.
According to a story in the May 27 Johnson City Press, many local officials were completely sideswiped by Matthew Hill and his firefighters unionization bill:
Notified of the bill only Monday, County Mayor George Jaynes said he believes many commissioners may have been “mixed up” as to the purpose of the vote. Commissioners actually took a vote to “opt out” of the agreement, which failed.
“This (bill) is something I was unaware of until Monday,” Jaynes said. “I was never contacted by Sen. (Rusty) Crowe, RJohnson City, or Rep. (Matthew) Hill, RJonesborough, on the matter.”

There was also the possibility that the commission might have been misled about certain aspects of the bill. Jaynes said he was even told that the bill had already been approved by the Senate when, in actuality, the bill didn’t go before that body until Friday evening.

Johnson City Manager Pete Peterson said city officials [were troubled by] the lack of support for Johnson City from its state representatives.

“Over half the counties in Tennessee and several cities have amendments attached opting them out of this thing,” Peterson said. “It’s especially troubling to us that we have communicated to Reps. (David) Davis and Hill and Senator Crowe that we wanted to be excluded from this bill and yet none of them have introduced an amendment that would do that.”

Peterson said talk of this bill is “creating animosity” among other city employees.

“I’ve had several police officers approach me already about this,” Peterson said. “This will create a lot of animosity between firefighters and other city employees.”

In addition, Peterson said this legislation is already “costing the city money” because he and others have had to devote many hours during this week alone to the topic and it will force the city to add at least one position or retain a special attorney.

“This will force us to hire a special labor lawyer to address the issues that come out this,” Peterson said.

Another aspect of this legislation, Peterson said, is that it would jeopardize the ability of those cities and counties included in the bill to attract, and keep, businesses.

“One of the things that allows Tennessee to remain competitive, when we have a lot going against us such as being ranked at the bottom when it comes to the health of our population, is that this is a no income tax and right to work state,” Peterson said.

This is a vote against business,” Peterson said. “If we allow labor unions to get a foothold in this state it would not only be bad for local government but also for business in general.”

Even Jonesborough Town Administrator Bob Browning voiced his opposition to the measure, though the bill wouldn’t affect his town.

“It’s supporting unionization. I mean, what’s the purpose, to ensure that firefighters have good communication with the city? We have an open door policy,” Browning said. “Why single out a department saying they need more communication? We have great communication here and myself or Safety Director (Craig) Ford have never turned down a chance to sit down and talk to our employees.”

Overall, Browning said he felt the whole thing was “a slap in the face” to the town of Jonesborough and its taxpayers.

Our firefighters even say that we don’t need something like this,” he said. “And what would we do with our public safety officers, who are trained to be firefighters and police officers?”

Hill, who represents Jonesborough, didn’t escape the ire of Browning, either, for his lack of communication.

“The thing is, he co-sponsored the bill and he’s our representative, and he hasn’t even bothered to communicate with us about the bill,” Browning said. “It really smells of politics and pandering of votes, especially during an election year.”

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