Other public officials in the Delaware Valley could learn a thing or two about toughness from Camden's freshman mayor, Dana Redd, who's standing up to city-employee unions during a budget crisis.
Redd has moved forward with plans for massive layoffs after defiant unions refused to make concessions. She displayed the decisive leadership that has been lacking in Camden for years.
Redd has a clear grasp on the economic reality. Camden cannot stand on its own, and the state is no longer flush with cash to bail it out. So, it must cut spending.
Redd has proposed an austere $138.8 million budget, mostly using state funds since its tax base is so small. But state aid will be $5.5 million less than last year.
It could not have been easy for Redd to propose laying off 383 city workers, including nearly half the police force and a third of firefighters. If that happens, because the unions won't grant concessions, the impact could be devastating. The city of 79,000 was just ranked the second most dangerous for crime in the nation.
Gov. Christie blames past city officials for the mismanagement that led to a seven-year state takeover of Camden, which ended this year. Christie wants the city to be independent, but until its tax base improves, Camden will need more state aid to stay afloat.
If public-safety cuts occur, state police must be prepared to help patrol the city. Other agencies and nearby towns also must help with fire and police protection.
The labor concessions Redd is seeking are reasonable, and clearly needed in these difficult times. In this economy, similar concessions have been made by both public and private-sector employees around the country.
As poor as Camden has been for years, its police officers and firefighters have had lucrative contracts that allow some to earn six-figure salaries plus such perks as longevity pay, tuition credits, extensive holidays, and generous sick time.
Those days are over. But that doesn't mean the city's public employees should be the only ones to bear the brunt of fiscal cuts. In fact, public comments suggest many Camden residents aren't sure that such deep cuts are needed.
To make her case, it's important for Redd to be more specific about how a special $69 million state allocation will be spent.
Looking toward Camden's future, it's also clear that nonprofits and other entities, including Cooper University Hospital, Rutgers University, and the South Jersey Port Corp., must do more to help the city financially. It's time for those businesses not even making payments in lieu of taxes to stand up.