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Clarksville Council Update, City Budget for May 13th, 2013

 

Clarksville City Council - Ward 10Clarksville, TN – The FY 2014 budget process is underway.  This year’s theme is supposedly things would be tight, as opposed to last year theme, which was spend today and don’t worried about FY 2014. The mayor held initial public city department budget presentations the week of April 22nd, 2013.

I had not sent any budget info out because these early presentations change (which they have).  Costs details and more unannounced changes are usually found only when the full line-by-line budget is provided (which they were). 

In addition, until the mayor provides both revenue and spending projections, there is little to analyze.  The city departments usually formulate their budget requests based on some general guidelines or limitations the Mayor provides beforehand.  So the public advertisement that these are the all-encompassing budget requests of strictly the city departments input is a bit misleading.  One of those initial mayoral limitations “evidently” was excluding pay raises for employees.

I state “evidently” because as of this date the Mayor has ignored answering my properly submitted requests for budget information. If you recall in my City Council regular session recap, the mayor is now the gatekeeper of any information council members may need that requires any written information or data.

My request (submitted April 18th) asked what department/city budget initiatives was directed to be excluded/unfunded before their presentation to the public. When council members see these budget presentations and something we thought would be included is not there, then the question is why. Some council members had to ask department directors about pay changes, since the mayor wasn’t saying. The basic response was the mayor was not providing pay raises due to the tight economy.

Interestingly, only a few days before the official budget came out and closely correlating to some visible personnel/job shifts within the Mayor’s direct staff, a 2% pay raise for employees that qualified would be provided. So economic times (and forthcoming budget exposure of substantial salary increases originating and implemented by the mayor for her closest staff) had changed in a few days.

Employee Pay Raises

As I previously stated, I had asked for budget information from the mayor and have yet to receive it. On April 25th, again following the dictated mayoral information request procedures, I asked for data on pay raise recommendations through the mayor’s communicator director. Last March 29th, 2012, council members had received the suggested pay raise data as requested from and provided by our pay study consultants Fox & Lawson.

The city had requested and received similar information for the up coming budget and with the mayor not initially authorizing an employee pay raise (except for her own staff) I was interested in the suggested salary increase.

On May 2nd, having not received any response to my April 25th request, I sent a follow-up email. I did receive a response back on May 2nd from the communications officer. She had been out of the office, but it was her understanding any wages/salaries information would be included in the budget documents next week (remember at this time no raises were authorized, per the public release of budget presentations).

I responded back that same day and stated unless the mayor was denying access to that recommendation, I would still like to have it in order to prepare for the May 13th council budget work session. I received a reply back from the communications officer that no one was denying access to information. The email proceeded to spell out how the interaction from Fox & Lawson, Human Resources and the mayor worked.

Given this is my seventh city budget, I had figured this out a while back. While I am being told no one is denying me information, it is interesting to note I still have not received the information I requested. While the Mayor is now providing a 2% a pay raise, I still do not know if that is what the expert’s recommendation was. Perhaps at the council work sessions I might receive an answer.

I am not the only council member that cannot get requested information from the Mayor after she deemed only her office can review/approve such requests.  A number of these requests are related to the budget process.

Continued message traffic from the Mayor states that some of the budget data requested is not a record that is maintained by HR/Personnel or any other department of the city that she was aware of. Some of the data requested by other council members are names of employees, their current salary, their new projected salary, number of years with the city, number of years in their current job and the pay range of their jobs.

I believe the interest in this data is sparked by the pay increases and job changes the mayor orchestrated for her closest staff.  Contrary to the Mayor’s denial that these records do not exist, all of this data has been provided at one time or another in past years to council members.

These records DO exist within the city’s financial and human resources databases or else a yearly functioning budget and payroll could not be produced. I retained the past copies of this information in order to study trends in future budgets. So for now the information stonewalling continues, but the budget data shows political job placement on the mayor’s staff is financially rewarding.

Mayor’s Staff Pay Raises

The Mayor’s initial Communications Officer quit after eight months on the job. Her Chief of Staff unexpectedly quit last month. It appears this recent event initiated position and salary changes that have just recently come to light.

Interesting, that while the Mayor was not initially intending to give raises to the rank and file employees, who have been with the city for years or decades, there were NO such limitations or delay in rewarding those whom she placed in city jobs working directly for her since becoming mayor.

The Mayor’s Communications and Public Information Officer, Ms. Rawls (whom the mayor brought in), will receive a 12.5% increase equating to $7,000; going from $55,880 to $62,880 in FY 2014. Her predecessor, who quit after eight months, was slated to make $55,000 in the FY 2012 budget.

According to the salary study approved in 2011, salary range mid-point for the average experienced communications director was $55,713 and topped out at a maximum of $66,165. The communications director prior to the McMillan administration, who had experience and training in media service and communications, was considered at the proper pay level during that study with a salary of $55,706. She attended as many meetings and worked as many hours as the mayor who hired her.

Ms. Rawls is not listed as having worked in the communications field or received educational/professional training associated with it. She is a lawyer by education and work experience along with having been Executive Director at the TN Economic Council on Women. She was working at the TN Attorney General’s office during the tenure of Mayor McMillan at the State House.

Mayor McMillan’s Executive Secretary, Ms. McCary, has also held a job (whom was brought in by the Mayor) that has received great financial generosity in terms of salary increases. Ms. McCary’s predecessor was slated to earn $36,274 in the FY 2011 budget proposal.

According to the salary study that was completed and implemented in Spring 2011, the maximum rate of pay for the Executive Secretary position was set at $40,889. In FY 2012, Mayor McMillan had increased Ms. McCary’s salary to $50,000, a 38% increase. The mayor’s rationale for the increase was new/additional duties.

By FY 2013 another pay increase equaled $53,340 or 6.7%. In the FY 2014 budget Ms. McCary now has a new job, her own office and a pay raise to $57,340; a $4,000 increase or 7.5%. Ms. McCary has also traveled a similar path as Mayor McMillan. She was Ms. McMillan’s office staff contact during her time at the State House and was at APSU with her.

The Mayor’s receptionist admin assistant, Ms Sandmel, was moved to the Executive Secretary position. However, she only draws a salary of $30,288, versus her prior salary of $26,358 in her old job position. It appears the lack of prior long-term association with the Mayor and resumption of the standard duties of the Executive Secretary position did not allow for any salary level higher than the minimum entry level according to the 2011 pay study range.

The Chief of Staff position has been downgraded to a Chief of Admin and a drop of pay from $95,504 to $75,000.  That helps offset the raises for the  “friends and acquaintances” pay plan.  However, that is not the end of it.

Several other things are disturbing about all of this. First, the city spent a great deal of money to fix the employee pay system a couple of years ago.  I was on the committee that worked the pay study. We had a couple of hundred too many job descriptions for a workforce of about a 1000 at that time.

During the years, the mayor/council did not provide pay raises or provided smaller raises than needed. To overcome the lack or size of raises, or to take care of a buddy or good employee, supervisors could “game” the HR system into providing a raise. If you could not get promoted to receive a pay increase and the mayor/council would not give you one, then the next best things were to create a new job or add in some important new duties with specific titles and responsibilities that would trigger crossing the threshold for a salary increase. Rewriting job descriptions to increase pay should rank as the world’s second oldest profession.

Second, Ms. McCray is no longer the Executive Secretary and now has her own office and a new job. I, and others, am unaware that this new job was posted for other eligible city employees to compete for. Those non-executive secretary tasks she took with her to the new job and any new job requirements added for the additional pay appear to make this a brand new position.

However, the “spin” is a title change and staff restructuring, thus no requirement to post the job.  This “new” position handles constituent services and supervision (of who?) and works with department heads and other city employees to solve problems and issues. I always thought that was the mayor’s job along with assistance from the chief of staff.

Third, the issue of job posting would also appear to affect the transfer of Ms. Sandmel from Receptionist/Admin assistant to fill the open position of Executive Secretary.  No one seems aware that any posting for the vacant position took place.  It shall be one of the questions presented in our work session.

Fourth, after giving at least two of her immediate staff huge raises, they have also been included to receive the additional 2% raise being given to all other employees.  The managerial/supervisory ethics and fairness issues that could be brought up are numerous.

Fifth, the Mayor has promoted everyone she can and used every bit of assigned personnel money she has, but that receptionist and other support work still exists and no one to do it. The problem is there is no one to do it and she does not want to be visibly seen as expanding staff and using more tax dollars for the same amount of work to be performed in the mayor’s office.

The Mayor advertises in her public budget slides that her office has five (5) fulltime workers, no part-time and that full-time equivalents equate to five positions. It has been this way and will be that way in FY 2014. So what do we do to get the work done? Why use a financial and staff shell game that is as old as business itself.

Put money in another account code, under a title that other departments use for one purpose, but will be used for a different purpose in the mayor’s office and dump money into it to pay for a person that will not show up on the city books as an employee. In this case an increase to $28,200 (this account code was funded with $3000 last year to provide for a “temp” to cover sick and vacation time of the admin employees) to basically fund a full-time “temporary” worker. That was more than Ms. Sandmel was paid as a city employee to do that work.

It is interesting to see the financial maneuvering that is going on. That is a wrap for now. There is plenty of other interesting budget numbers that I will fill you in on later.

Editor’s Note: This article contains the view points of Councilman Bill Summers and may not represent the views of the rest of the City Council, the City of Clarksville or ClarksvilleOnline.


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