Updated: December 12, 2011 at 12:00 am
An attempt by Mayor Steve Bach to suspend what he calls “automatic” pay increases for city employees led to a tense exchange with some City Council members Monday.
Council members criticized the mayor for proposing long-lasting changes to the city’s civilian personnel Policies and Procedures Manual with little time to study them.
“It’s just an example of something coming at us quick,” said Councilman Val Snider, echoing a sentiment that other council members have expressed about Bach in the past.
Bach apologized for bringing the proposed changes to council “at the last minute.”
But Bach said it was only recently that he discovered that employees were still getting merit increases. However, his 2012 budget included $1.3 million for that purpose.
“The point here is that we have at least one department where half of the people are due for a 5 percent increase the first of January,” Bach said. “How many people in this audience who don’t work for government are getting a 5 percent increase? Raise your hand? Nobody.”
Bach, who called for a salary freeze after taking office, said he found out about the ongoing merit increases after a council member that he didn’t identify sent him an email from City Auditor Denny Nester in which Nester proposed a salary increase for one of his employees.
Bach said he could exercise other powers if the council didn’t change the so-called PPM.
“The charter currently grants the mayor the sole authority to lay people off, to terminate people,” he said.
“I have that authority today if I need to, and frankly, if these automatic increases continue and we have a difficult revenue year and we are left with no choice but to grant these automatic increases or make changes to the size of the workforce, I will make that decision,” he said. “I will make it if I have to.”
The policy states that “an employee whose performance is satisfactory or better shall be eligible for increases in their base rate of pay.” The mayor wants to change the word “shall” to “may,” among other changes.
“The word ‘shall’ is the one that eliminates any discretion,” City Attorney Chris Melcher said.
Council members said they weren’t necessarily opposed to the proposed changes, just the way they were handled by the mayor.
Council President Pro Tem Jan Martin said the council received documents about the proposed changes on Wednesday to prepare for Monday’s discussion. By Monday, she said, the proposal had changed and focused only on one specific policy.
“Mr. Mayor, I’m not saying that I wouldn’t support (the proposed changes), but this method of doing it just doesn’t work. You’re asking for a major change here,” she said.
Councilwoman Brandy Williams questioned the timing, saying she brought up the mayor’s salary freeze when airport officials talked about salary increases earlier this year. Williams said the mayor was sitting in council chambers during that discussion.
“I’m not entirely sure why it hasn’t come up until now,” she said. “Next time when I bring those questions up, I’ll just keep calling you. ‘Mayor, have you figured this out? Mayor, have you figured this out?’”
The council eventually agreed to try to find a way to suspend the merit increases for civilian employees next year without changing the Policies and Procedures Manual.
The proposed change would not affect sworn personnel, such as police officers and firefighters, who are poised to receive about $550,000 in merit increases next year.
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