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Chili cook-offs and gift cards: Coeur d'Alene spends $4,500 on "Employee Recognition"

Chili cook-offs and gift cards: Coeur d'Alene spends $4,500 on "Employee Recognition"

December 15, 2009
December 15, 2009

The Coeur d’Alene city government spends thousands of taxpayer dollars every year to show city employees they are appreciated. In fact, according to public records obtained by the Idaho Freedom Foundation, expenses under the heading of “Employee Recognition” totaled $4,489.42 in FY2009.

“Employee Recognition” line items are listed under the Human Resources department’s expenditures. Included in the total are $914.20 in expenses related to a chili cook-off, $448.53 spent on an employee barbecue, $849.27 for various “celebrations”, and $2,096.25 for awards and gifts.

According to the records, items purchased included engraved retirement coins, peer awards, gift cards and lots of “celebration” odds and ends.

Human Resources director Pam McDonald told us that, from what she’s seen, most city officials don’t have any qualms with spending money to keep employees happy. “There are some things in here, for example, the service awards we give to our employees annually for five-year increments of service, these kind of things they feel are important, so they are supportive of those functions and the morale and the low turnover we have with the city. They feel that’s a value-driven expense.”

Mayor Sandi Bloem agreed.

“It is a lot less, in my mind, and therefore a better value to the taxpayer, to spend a few dollars rewarding your employees, than to train new employees, and lose their history with the city and their expertise. So I look at those dollars as a huge value to the taxpayers, because they allow us to keep superior employees at the city.”

We asked Bloem if it was a good idea to spend that much money on city employees while the economy is in recession. She said people need to understand how important it is for the city to keep a skilled and motivated workforce. “Remember, those employees are the people that guarantee us clean water. They guarantee us a wastewater treatment plant that operates and protects the river. That guarantee you that if you call 9-1-1, your life might be saved. That guarantees you that the roads are taken care of, so you can get an emergency vehicle in the snow. These are not ordinary tasks; these are tasks that are life saving and life protecting, and sustainability issues.”

Still, former city council candidate Dan Gookin thinks spending $4,500 on city employee recognition shows the mayor and council are out of touch with their constituents. “I don’t think anyone on the Coeur d’Alene city council stands up for the taxpayer. No one has ever said ‘The folks out there are hurting, and what can we do?

They’ve had to cut back, they’ve had to deal with less, what can we do to deal with less?’ Now granted, their (city employees) unions took a zero percent, they didn’t give anyone a COLA (cost of living adjustment). But yet they’re still wasting money. The stuff they pay for that they don’t have to is just ridiculous.”

Gookin told us the city’s elected officials don’t have the courage to make tough decisions when it comes to spending. “Not one of those elected officials would stand up and say ‘Hey, you know what? We need to save money, so no plaques. No trophies. No chili cook-offs.’ Do you know how many people out here this winter can’t heat their homes to 68 degrees because they can’t afford $900? That’s a lot of money to people out here, and there’s no one on the city council that fathoms that. There’s no champion for the person out here that’s having trouble making ends meet.”

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