Union reps praise Beck, await heir

Local labor leaders have big expectations for working with the next city manager.
Monday, July 4, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:06 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 4, 2008

While Columbia City Manager Ray Beck’s retirement won’t take effect until the end of the year, union leaders have high hopes for his successor.

Union representatives have little direct interaction with the city manager, but they do occasionally consult on important personnel issues. During budget preparations each year, union leaders meet with department heads and the assistant city manager for “meet and confer” sessions to negotiate issues such as salaries, insurance and other benefits. The tentative agreements that result from those meetings are forwarded to the city manager, who either approves them or asks for further negotiations.

Union leaders had good things to say about Beck’s management style, but they do have concerns that they hope the next city manager will address.

George Hessenbruch, a spokesman for the Water and Light Association, said he hopes the next city manager will address the need to pay more competitive wages to employees in the water and electric utilities.

“We’ve lost some very good people to other utility companies, and we haven’t been able to hire them back,” Hessenbruch said. “It’s something that needs to be corrected soon, but it can’t be done overnight.”

Laborers Local 773 field representative Rex Taggart praised Beck, saying he’s “always very open with all of us about situations.” He said the next city manager should be someone who shows similar concern for employees.

“We’re looking for someone who is sensitive to labor issues and has knowledge of public sector and labor laws,” he said.

Richard Martin, president of the Columbia Professional Firefighters Local 1055, emphasized the need for a manager who actively seeks input from both employees and the general public.

“In order for this city to go through responsible growth, we need a city manager who is in tune to what the citizens want,” Martin said, adding Beck has been good about staying in touch.

“At one of the meet and confer sessions, we got to ask our questions directly to Mr. Beck, which was nice because we knew they were getting asked the way we wanted them asked,” Martin said. “He may not have liked some of our questions, but they needed to be asked.”

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