10:00 PM PDT on Friday, September 24, 2010

Cassie MacDuff

The Redlands City Council has a mutiny on its hands.

Department heads are forming a union since the council ended cash-outs of unused health benefits that the department heads had mistakenly received.

The council only found out after the fact about the April lump-sum cash-outs totaling more than $120,000.

The human resources director said the council didn’t need to be notified; it was an administrative decision to give the directors the cash value of their unused health spending account benefits.

The council hired a lawyer to review the benefits agreement and he concluded that there was no legal basis for the payments.

Now the department heads are accusing the council of acting in bad faith.

That’s the pot calling the kettle black. The cash-outs should have been brought to the council’s attention, not slipped by sub rosa.

The council has wrestled mightily with budget cuts and letting employees go; residents have been warned to expect unfilled potholes and reduced public service.

How could the HR director not realize a $120,000 payout was something the council would want to know about?

The lump-sum payment wasn’t the end of it. The department heads continued to receive extra cash in their paychecks, ranging from $38 a month for the finance director to $2,100 a month for the city manager.

Those payments should come to an end with the next paycheck. But the department heads are not being asked to pay back the money they were mistakenly paid.

If they want to show good faith, they should voluntarily return the funds. They’re well-paid and receive very generous benefits. The erroneous pay was enough to have kept a few laid-off city workers employed.

Speaking of public officials setting a good example, I spotted a Riverside County official flagrantly violating the hands-free phone law.

I was driving south on Market Street near the Fox theater, where the city had one lane blocked for construction Thursday. Traffic crept along as everyone squeezed into one lane.

A gray sedan pulled around the corner, its driver steering with one hand and holding a cell phone to his ear with the other.

Traffic was almost gridlocked so I had plenty of time to get a good look at him: a well-dressed man with salt-and-pepper hair and beard and gold-rimmed glasses. He continued talking on his cell phone as we crawled the next few blocks, where he turned left onto a side street.

I memorized the county vehicle number and jotted it down at the next stoplight.

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