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Apparently, the arbitrator handling the Fort Lee police contract did not get the state memo counseling fairness in his award.

I HAVE read with great interest recent articles relating to binding arbitration and the rewards of arbitrators.

In these days of reduced state aid, crashing stock markets, plummeting real estate values and record levels of unemployment, we who govern municipalities feel quite alone. Fort Lee has imposed hiring freezes, instituted novel income-generating programs, amended billing methodology of various vendors of the borough, adopted a “zero balance” budget protocol and have done everything possible to avoid layoffs. Our responsibility is to our taxpayers. However, human nature dictates we depart from ledger sheets and calculators to consider the lives and families affected if layoffs were to occur.

I believe that most people understand the deplorable circumstances we face. Accordingly, employees, department heads, contract vendors and most union leaders have worked with government to negotiate fair contracts that balance reasonable compensation with a recognition of the already excessive burden on taxpayers. They are sophisticated and considerate enough to recognize that “beating the hell” out of us for an excessive raise or costly benefits may potentially trigger that “four-letter” word: layoffs.

There is a glaring exception to this culture of cooperation: Arbitrators who render determinations on police contracts apparently have not gotten the memorandum and exist in a vacuum. The recent arbitrator’s award concerning the Fort Lee police contract disregarded economic conditions, the government’s fair and, by most accounts, generous offer to settle and the significant burden placed on our taxpayers.

I cannot blame our local police representatives. It is human nature to ask for as much as possible and achieve the most for their organization. Were it not for the economic turmoil, I would have enthusiastically supported a generous contract. I can, however, blame the arbitrator for the complete disregard of the current economic climate.

State officials have told me that arbitrators have been counseled to be fair with their awards and remain cognizant of the economic climate and the fragile financial state of municipalities. Apparently, the arbitrator handling the Fort Lee arbitration did not get that memo either.

The borough is now compelled to spend tens of thousands of dollars processing an appeal in the hopes of avoiding the expenditure of hundreds of thousands of dollars. If, after exhausting every alternative, layoffs are unavoidable, I can look back with certainty and precision in identifying which straw broke the camel’s back.

The arbitrator’s actions in Fort Lee – and the actions of arbitrators across the state for that matter – leave municipal officials feeling abandoned and worried about what lies ahead. With the arbitration award for Fort Lee police, I now sit behind my desk staring at a list that I hoped I would never be required to look at. I know each of the young men and women on the list. I grew up with many of them and in many cases was instrumental in their hiring. If we have to lay off personnel, I intend to deliver this essay to the arbitrator, personally.

Mark J. Sokolich is mayor of Fort Lee.

He’s right in that it’s natural to ask for as much as possible. What is not however is monopoly and that’s ultimately the cause behind this issue. The FLPD has a monopoly on the use of aggression in the geographic area which is known as Fort Lee, New Jersey. The town does not take bids from a range of defense providers. They have a single group of people who are paid by funds taken through the threat of force who have been given their aura of legitimacy by the entity called Fort Lee. There is no true accountability to a customer. All market signals are at best distorted if not outright blocked.

They are given immense powers and a monopoly. What do you expect to happen? They are given the ability to do things the public is not. They are allowed to aggress against individuals who have not infringed on the rights of others. They are allowed to get away with actions which others in the community can not. They are held up as idols without the corresponding expectation of more perfect morals. A man like Johannes Mehserle can murder a man and he’s defended both by his department and many in the public. His defense is ultimately paid by taxpayers and even if found guilty he’ll likely be given a less severe penalty. If the roles were reversed and that young man murdered a cop by shooting him in the back police all across the country would be calling for this mans death as would most of the public. There would be a huge, paid by taxpayers, funeral with pomp and circumstance. Does anyone really believe that such treatment would not lead to large heads and a feeling of superiority?

If Mark J. Sokolich wants to correctly respond to the current economic crisis he will work to marketize the many aspects of the Fort Lee government and allow the market decide who and what are most needed.  By definition any government action, any employment they provide, is less efficient than the market’s. Otherwise the money would not have to be taken but would voluntarily be exchanged. I’d like to say too that layoffs in a time of economic difficulty is a good thing. Jobs are not a cause of a sound economic environment but the result of one. They represent efficiently allocated labor resources.

On another topic… I’d really like to know what these “novel income-generating programs” are. Often that means they are increasing random fees and tickets given to people for victimless crimes. Fortunately for the government, unfortunately for the average serf, most people are too busy to deal with such fees and tickets. The government has individuals who’s jobs are to go to court. The rest of us, the productive ones, have real jobs which often don’t allow us to take a whole day or more off to fight the ticket. If even just a small percentage of those who received tickets and such fought them the courts would jam up. While it’s possible the bureaucrats could further grow government in order to deal with the increase it is more likely they will continue to function at current capacity and at some point they’d need to reduce the enforcement of such statutes. At least one can hope.

FLPD, things are tough right now as I’m sure you know. Those of us who ultimately pay for your salaries and for everything that goes along with protection you are supposed to provide are having to tighten their belts and make sacrifices. You need to also. Besides the moral reasons for doing so there are economic reasons. By not downsizing, by keeping salaries and spending artificially high, you are keeping resources from the economy which need to be saved and put toward more productive uses. It is the same as with the bailouts. Taking resources from productive members of the economy and putting them in the hands of the less productive or negatively productive members. I’d suggest reading Murray Rothbard’s America’s Great Depression for a better description of what Hoover and FDR did wrong and how things are repeating themselves and how you are contributing to that.