No easy answers to accrued time payouts

Let’s get to the facts. Long Branch Councilman Brian Unger makes the statement that Long Branch has the highest employee payouts for unused sick and vacation days at $10.4 million (letters, Atlanticville, Oct. 29). The first problem is that this is not a payout, it is an estimate of the current value of the unused time to be paid over a period of time. Some of this will never be paid out at all. Second, the estimate as listed on page 3c of the municipal budget that the councilman received is $8.6 million. Finally, the actual amount paid out in 2009 was about $26,000 to date. Either Councilman Unger is being purposely misleading or again, he just doesn’t understand.

Mr. Unger further criticizes the municipal finance process as “archaic” without any expertise in how it functions or any knowledge of its purpose. The state of New Jersey has one of the most conservative financial processes in the country, which is designed to keep a municipality solvent. Yes, it was a result of the crash in 1929 and has served the state well for 80 years. Archaic, or tried and true? Mr. Unger doesn’t even understand the system he claims was created to “obscure millions of dollars in spending,” then adds the fear of pay-to-play and political corruption. Who is being childish?

Let’s take a look at GAAP, the gold standard of accounting, according to Councilman Unger. We all remember a corporation called Enron that worked under the GAAP accounting standards. Enron’s downfall in October 2001 resulted in the largest bankruptcy in American history at the time. Arthur Andersen, which was one of the five largest accounting firms in the world, was dissolved. The downfall was the result of accounting loopholes, special purpose entities and poor financial reporting. Enron was able to hide billions in debt from failed deals as its executives misled the board of directors and audit committee. Enron also put pressure on Andersen to ignore the issues. Financial statements, conforming to GAAP accounting standards, were not transparent and did not clearly detail its operations and finances with shareholders and analysts. While this is a huge example of system failure, others at the time included Tyco and Worldcom.

Like it or not, the majority of employees in the city of Long Branch are protected by unions and, in some cases, civil service. I don’t believe that as a council we can simply legislate away accrued sick and vacation time that employees have earned under their contract. There are no easy answers to this difficult issue. To indicate otherwise is just irresponsible.

Finally, I would love to be able to work with Mr. Unger to resolve the important issues facing the city but frankly, I just don’t trust him. Mr. Unger is a sound bite of fear and opposition. I’m sorry I had to call him a liar, but the shoe seems to fit and he seems to like to wear it

(Enron excerpts were taken from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia).
Michael DeStefano
Long Branch