Former City Councilman Bob “Troll” Walsh tells OIB “I’m retired, I haven’t died.” And this appears to be part of his message in a statement he sent to OIB that he’s also sharing with his former legislative colleagues scheduled for a public hearing Tuesday night regarding proposed pay raises for about 80 non-classified city positions. The City Council’s Ordinance Committee the other night sent the measure to the full council even while some council members expressed trepidation about the increases. Walsh, the council’s former resident curmudgeon, claims the city is rushing the public hearing scheduled for 6 p.m. on Tuesday before the full council meeting at 7 p.m.
Mayor Bill Finch supports the pay increases and administration officials say the city must modernize salaries to attract quality job applicants. The ordinance states … “the Mayor may authorize salary increases within the salary ranges established by ordinance or not more than fifteen percent (15%) outside of such salary ranges as the Mayor deems warranted …” The positions include discretionary appointments of the mayor such as office staff. For background and ordinance language see here.
What a rush to judgment!
The Finch administration is so anxious to hand out taxpayers’ hard-earned money that they cannot even be bothered with following normal protocol when it comes to changing an ordinance.
Under prior practices, if the Ordinance Committee met on a Wednesday evening prior to a Monday Council Meeting and voted schedule a public hearing on a new or change to an ordinance, the hearing would be scheduled not for the next meeting but in order to ensure proper public notice, it would be scheduled for the following meeting. So in this instance, it would not be scheduled for Tuesday, January 3rd but instead Monday January 16th (or the next regularly scheduled council meeting).
But in an effort to push this ordinance through and to limit public input, the city pushed to get the legal notice published on an expedited basis simply to have the public hearing on a day following a holiday and, for many, extended time-off simply to meet a legal requirement and not to address the true spirit of the law.
Well unfortunately for my former colleagues I will be there and I will be speaking against this proposal. Here are just some of the reasons:
1) When this ordinance was initially established significant effort went into the process by then CAO Dennis Murphy to define the various levels of positions and to establish job descriptions, span of control and decision-making responsibilities. Also, at that time, comparisons were sought to establish a pay range that would be competitive with other municipalities in the state. Include in the language was an automatic adjustment to those ranges to increase them at the same rate as annual raises were handed out to members of the Supervisors Bargaining Unit. Hence there should never be a need for across the board changes to these salary brackets.
2) If, as some have suggested, duties and responsibilities for some of these individuals have increased then the job should be rewritten, a new comparison sought and a proposed change for that position be sent to the council. But at the same time, if new responsibilities replace previous positions or other positions have shrunk in their level of responsibility then those positions should be downgraded or eliminated at the same time.
3) At the end of the Fabrizi Administration many of the positions listed here were placed under the control of Civil Service and made members of a collective bargaining unit. These positions must be identified and permanently removed from this ordinance otherwise there remains the possibility of creating another shadow payroll in which people performing the same duties are classified differently in the city. The city acknowledged this fact when it said that many of these have been unfilled for over a year. If we are going to change the ordinance than this step must be taken now and not at a later date.
4) The Finch Administration has begun a Charter Revision Commission. Any and all of these positions are subject to change and/or elimination based on the recommendations of that commission. No significant changes should be made until the commission issued its recommendations. Again if certain positions need to be examined, regarded and changed this should be done on a position by position basis until potential charter changes are fleshed out.
5) Members of most collective bargaining units have made significant concessions in the area of fringe benefits and retirement and yet for this select group of individuals nowhere are there benefits defined or restricted. This is a practice that must cease and be addressed prior to this change being considered.
6) City Attorney Anastasi, in testifying before the committee suggested that these changes were needed in case a new employee was sought who commanded a higher salary and the city needed to raise the rate to be competitive with other employers. If this is truly the reason why the change is sought then I would strongly recommend that the 15% leeway be restricted to new employees who have not worked for the city as an employee or a contractor/subcontractor for 2 years.
The council should take this request under serious consideration but prior to acting perform its due diligence, ensure that there is proper control against abuse and make sure that the taxpayers are being adequately protected. I do not believe that this is the case with the current proposal and if it is to be taken as a take it or leave it request then I would urge the council to reject the proposed ordinance change.