Hollywood Tries to Negotiate Out of Budget Hole; Unions Wary of Inept Bookkeeping

Yeah, it's a budget-negotiation story: City wants to close up its wallet like a startled anemone; unions hire lawyers and demand fair pay in a tough economy. But in the case of the City of Hollywood, there are so many little doodads and flourishes to make the story worth noting. 

The city is facing an $8.5 million shortfall that was announced only last month -- despite being written down in red ink at the bottom of an internal spreadsheet since March of this year. When that detail came out, Mayor Peter Bober hastily told the Sun-Sentinel that the blame fell on the city's budget director, Cynthia Forrester -- and called publicly for her firing.

We're no experts, Mayor Bober (you really should call us back, though), but it seems like that pronouncement would leave a big gray cloud of awkward hanging over what you have to do now: convince the unions that when you offer to pay them less money, you know what the hell you are talking about.

The city held meetings yesterday with the police and general employees' unions, and today it meets with the firefighters. 

Police officers would lose 12.5 percent of their pay, and general employees would lose 10 percent: a fairly drastic cut. Furloughs and slashed cost-of-living increases are other steps the city is proposing to remedy its budget crisis.

But how can the unions believe Hollywood? If the shortfall just appeared, might it not rise or fall or disappear just as suddenly? And if the city's own mayor says the budget director is inept, why should they take the negotiations seriously instead of just demanding more?

"I don't know how we can sit here and actually accurately look at the numbers when in fact the city is in a lot of trouble regarding the books," [union attorney Mike] Braverman said. "I'm not sure you can take the numbers and have any confidence that $8.5 million is gone or $8.5 million isn't gone. I think until there's a forensic audit or someone gets a handle on what's going on over there, it's inappropriate to earmark funds that have to be extracted from this unit."

Man has a point.

The public shaming of Forrester -- who's still on the job, as far as we know -- isn't the only image problem the city is facing. What about the shiny new clock and thermometer on top of the water tower, paid for with a last-minute appropriation last year? What about the new $7 million fire station on the beach, a subject of long debate and even longer delays? These things may make sense for roping in visitor dollars, but they're dings in the city's negotiating armor.

What about the fact that a pair of anonymous letters alleged backroom dealing and worse by the city manager, Cameron Benson?

You may be unemployed and eating Doritos in your underwear, but thank your lucky stars that you're not a contract lawyer for Hollywood, having to broker a deal with your house falling down around you.

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Stefan Kamph
Contact: Stefan Kamph