The times have changed

The times have changed
Date May 14, 2004
By Peter Hussmann

Those that don’t understand the appliance industry is undergoing a sea change in the way it operates are denying the business reality of the situation.

So said Ralph Hake to shareholders attending Thursday’s annual meeting.

He put it like this. A Maytag washer built in 1974 cost about $500. The same type of top load, agitator driven model today markets for about $60 less. You do the math.

During his address, Hake continually referred to Maytag’s transition, change and, in essence, coming of age for the 100-plus year old company. While he said all intentions are for Maytag to continue to operate as an independent, publicly traded company for the next 100 years, today there can be no guarantees of a lifetime attachment to a specific manufacturing operation.

Words of assurance for Newton were not forthcoming. With labor talks under way — and Maytag’s past statements that new platforms would not occur here until safety, cost, delivery and quality issues have been rectified — Hake said it would not be appropriate to talk directly about the local situation, noting a blackout agreement the company and UAW had reached about the negotiations. He did say, however, that the parties involved were eminently capable of doing what was necessary to ensure some sort of satisfactory outcome.

Anyone looking for insight into what the next few weeks hold for Newton was left hanging. One should not likely put much solace in Hake’s statement that no additional U.S. plants are planned for closure at the current time by comparing it to another statement he made that 96 percent of Maytag production work occurs within the borders, not necessarily a good thing, he said.

Bob Dylan had it right a long time ago. But the times aren’t just “a-changin,” they have.

IT’S OFTEN WHAT’S left unsaid that leads to loudest reverberations. Such could be the case with the local UAW CAP committee’s endorsement for county candidates in the June primary election.

The committee, which is the political arm of the UAW, gave endorsements to Dennis Parrott, a first-time local candidate for office who is seeking the auditor’s seat opening up due to the retirement of Ken Slothouber. The committee also decided to back Mike Balmer, who is seeking his second term as Jasper County Sheriff.

Good choices both.

And I suspect both will win. Neither is opposed in the June 8 Democratic Primary election and once again, local Republicans are as of yet failing to field a platform of candidates for the two open county seats.

But what screams the loudest is the position the CAP committee took on the pending Democratic primary race for county supervisor.

In that race, supervisor chairman Max Worthington, who is finishing his first term, faces former supervisor Pat Milligan, who was ousted handily two years ago after two terms on the board when the local Republican party assumed control of the courthouse for the first time in at least 30 years.

The loud silence emanates from the CAP committee’s decision not to endorse either candidate. Though no one on the committee said as much, odds are the lack of an endorsement wafts back four years ago when the county sheriff’s race caused quite a rift within the union ranks.

At that time, Balmer, who was chief deputy under retiring Sheriff Jim Verwers, held the line for succession of power. As his boss before him and his boss before him, he was the natural person to assume the position.

However, an upstart sheriff deputy, John Guthrie, decided to challenge the status quo and jumped in as a second Democratic candidate for the seat, creating a situation where local Democrats were forced to eat their own.

Not even getting into the felony drug charges which were filed the day after Guthrie lost the primary election and upon which he was later acquitted, it appears local union officials don’t want to go anywhere near what transpired four years ago. While the union leadership generally supported Balmer’s bid, a significant portion of the membership backed Guthrie’s run for the seat. It created, let’s say, a tense situation, something it appears the CAP committee wishes not to replicate.

Probably for the best.

ON TUESDAY, Worthington and Milligan met in a candidate forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Jasper County where Milligan criticized the current board’s handling of the new jail project, said not enough effort was being made at economic development efforts and suggested the county unload the former care facility site in an effort to get the area back on the tax rolls. Worthington, on the other hand, gave his support of using the unused portions of the Annex Building as a human services campus, a change from his previous suggestion of using the former county home as the location of such a site, effectively stealing Mr. Milligan’s same suggestion that has appeared in his paid advertising.

The topic of enacting a five-member board was also broached. Both candidates saw no real problems with such a plan, if brought to a vote of county residents through the proper petition channels and if the cost of such a move could be covered under the current strictures of county resources.

What the two men opposed, however, was enacting a county-manager form of government. Under such a scenario, the day-to-day operation of the county would fall to the county manager with the supervisors acting as policy makers, directing the show but leaving the hands-on work to the manager.

No way, both men said, even with a five member board. They would be happy to continue to run the show, thank you. A manager puts distance between the people and their elected representative, they argue.

But then, maybe that’s a good thing.


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