Did Mayor Engen Really Say Government Employees “Don’t Have to do Very Much, Get Paid a Lot?”
The city of Missoula's condemnation lawsuit against Mountain Water Company is underway and, so far, a statement about government employees by Mayor John Engen has been mentioned directly or indirectly by nearly every attorney.
The statement at issue comes from an October 2014 deposition in which Mayor Engen was asked if the city of Missoula would have an advantage in motivating employees over a private company. Below is Engen's original response in full with controversial statement in bold. The statement was originally transcribed by Jeffries Court Reporting Inc.
"I think there are folks who are built for public service and I think engaging in public service for a public utility is attractive on a number of fronts," Engen said. "We have employees who've worked at the City of Missoula for many, many years. So here's the irony that I think is at play here. On the one hand you have folks who suggest that there's no better place to work than government because you don't have to do very much and you get paid a whole lot of money and you retire early; right? So apparently it's the best place possible to work. (Attorney Zadick laughing.) So I think we provide some incentive for sticking around."
"But we have expectations -- in modern municipal government we have lots of expectations of folks, but there are folks cut out to do that. And I think what we're finding as we move forward, particularly as we look at a new generation of workers, we might have some tools that the private sector might not have. The other thing that I think we have is longevity. If I were an employee of Mountain Water today, I would be worried about whoever the next private purchaser might be and how long they might stick around and what might change when the next buyer comes."
Whether read as a joke, a misstatement, or a political analysis, the Mayor's statement seems unlikely to have a lasting impact on the Mountain Water Company imminent domain lawsuit. But, even if you happen to be the questioning attorney, it's good for a laugh.