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KEVIN LEININGER: Thanks to virus, New Haven mayor plans successor; Kroger rewards ‘heroes’

New Haven Mayor Steve McMichael. (News-Sentinel.com file photo by Kevin Leininger
A shopper leaves the Kroger store at the Village of Conventry, where many workers will get a "hero bonus" for their work during the COVID-19 crisis. (News-Sentinel.com photo by Kevin Leininger)
Kevin Leininger

Steve McMichael has been mayor of New Haven for barely three months, and already he’s planning for his successor. Sort of.

And as so many things are these days, it’s all because of COVID-19.

“This isn’t something I intend to do. But just in case I fall victim to COVID-19, I want to have a backup in place,” said the Republican McMichael, who on Tuesday will ask his City Council to authorize the appointment of a deputy mayor to oversee the city’s day-to-day operations should McMichael decide he is unable to fulfill his duties.

McMichael said he’s already identified his potential replacement — a person he would identify only as a “senior staff member.” But even if it is activated, the position will not bloat the city bureaucracy or payroll, he noted: The job will be temporary, and pay only minimum wage.

“I just want to make sure there’s someone in place to run the city,” said McMichael, who like many others is doing much of his work from home. “It wouldn’t be fair to ask a part-time City Council member to do it.”

Governments have a bad habit of expanding, constantly consuming resources that could perhaps be better spent elsewhere. There are times, however, when responsible government must adapt and do what is necessary in the most efficient but effective way possible. This is one of those times.

President Donald Trump already has Vice President Mike Pence. Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry has Deputy Mayor Karl Bandemer. Even Santa has Mrs. Claus. McMichael and Allen County’s second-largest city have no such safety net, and he deserves credit for planning for the worst while hoping for the best.

Unsung heroes

I actually saw toilet paper at my neighborhood Kroger store this week. Not a lot, and it was mostly that nasty single-ply stuff. But it was there. So was a decent selection of meat, bread and other things that had been in very short supply thanks to the hoards of hoarders.

The relative bounty didn’t happen by accident and, with White House Virus Task Force Coordinator Deborah Birx naming Indiana as one of the next COVID-19 hot spots because 15 percent of tests are positive, sustaining it won’t be automatic. So let’s take a moment to appreciate the unsung heroes of this pandemic, starting with those who can’t wall themselves off from others if food and other essential supplies are to remain on America’s table.

For all the self-sacrifice and gallantry being displayed by health-care workers, public safety employees and many others, exposure to risk comes with the job. Not so for those who sustain the food chain, many of whom are young and working part-time for relatively low wages and no benefits. During a crisis like this those workers are especially important, which is one reason why a sign at Kroger announced the store is hiring at $12.30 an hour “with comparable experience” even as more than 27,000 people in northeast Indiana were filing unemployment claims during the past two weeks.

It was, therefore, not only just but good business when the Cincinnati-based grocer and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) International Union this week announced increased pay and benefits for more than 12,000 workers at Kroger stores across Indiana. The deal, which will be reviewed after three weeks, includes a $2 per hour raise for hourly frontline employees in retail stores, manufacturing plants, distribution centers, pharmacies and other operations. It also provides for emergency paid leave, additional cleaning and sanitizing protocols, shortened store operating hours and other steps to protect both the public and employees, such as installing plexiglass partitions at check lanes.

This week, instead of the usual roll of self-serve sanitizing wipes, an employee was manually disinfecting the carts before making them available to shoppers — an increasing number of whom seem to be wearing masks and gloves. If they’re worried, what about workers who come into contact with hundreds of people every day?

“The ‘hero bonus’ is just one more way we continue to convey our thanks and gratitude not only to our existing associates but also to the more than 30,000 new hires who have joined in the past two weeks and those who will soon join,” stated Kroger Chairman and CEO Rodney McMullen.

That isn’t hyperbole. These usually anonymous workers and millions of others like them are keeping this country afloat, and employers able to do so should reward and protect them accordingly. As for the rest of us, it costs nothing to at least say: Thanks.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com or call him at 461-8355.

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