The council voted 3-2 in favor of a new compensation and classification structure for city employees that improves the pay for 303 employees and will cost the city about $2.24 million in fiscal 2016. It will place employees at the corresponding place in their new ranges up to the midpoint of that range. Others will maintain their current salaries.
“I am glad we have finally come to a resolution, though it certainly isn’t everything that I would have wanted for our employees and certainly not (as much as) I think they deserve. I do feel getting the steps back in is a measure of fairness,” said Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton. “I had hoped that we would reach a decision at a different percentile (more than up to the midpoint). I don’t think we addressed all of the concerns, but it’s a start.”
Derrick Pierson, president of the local American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, had also spoken in favor of steps.
“I’m glad that we came up with a resolution for the unions,” he said.
Although the local Fraternal Order of Police and AFSCME got the step increase system for which it pushed, many employees also wanted merit additions to base pay rather than lump-sum bonuses or annual leave rewards. However, finance staff told the council the base additions were not financially feasible without major changes to the city budget.
Newton also wanted the council’s decision to make up for recession years and the years staff held out because they knew there was an upcoming compensation and classification study.
Cohen said it would not be possible to return to pre-recession payment levels without major adjustments, and funding now affects the reserves in the future.
“We’ve heard the employees say ‘Hey, give us what we had before, fund what you did before,’” Cohen said. “But things have changed, and we aren’t going to be able to go back to pre-recessionary compensation unless the mayor and council are prepared to change our revenue structure or expenditure structure. I hate to be the bearer of that news; that is just the bottom line.”
The council also tried to make decisions on the pay structure and implementation one at a time, but ended up revisiting old issues. The first compensation-related issue to tackle at the meeting was whether to change the compensation philosophy, which the council adopted in January to support open pay ranges. Newton had in recent months asked for information after employee groups advocated strongly for keeping steps.
Council member Tom Moore said the council should not revisit the issue since it had taken a vote against that earlier in the year, first with the compensation philosophy and then during a discussion of the study in May.
This prompted a procedural debate in which Moore argued the council could not discuss the steps because it would require a motion to reconsider, but the time had passed since the initial vote to make that motion valid. City Attorney Debra Daniel said the motion to reconsider is only legally necessary for quasi-judicial issues, which this was not.
Daniel said then it was up to the mayor to make a ruling on how to proceed, so Newton said the council should proceed with a vote on steps. Moore appealed the ruling, Council member Julie Palakovich Carr seconded it and Council member Virginia Onley also supported it. However, she ultimately agreed with Newton that the council should vote on the step increase issue and said she only voted for the appeal to move the process along.
“I voted for this because I thought, OK, it’s documented, it’s cleaner, but I in no way meant to slow the process or to stop the process, and I guess I feel like at this point I’ve been a little hoodwinked here,” Onley said.
Onley then made a motion to suspend the rules on motions to reconsider, which succeeded over the objections of Moore and Palakovich Carr.
Onley, Newton and Council member Beryl Feinberg then voted in favor of including steps in the compensation system. Palakovich Carr also said she would not want to support an option that they could fund this year but not in future years, which would repeat the lack of step raises for police for the past six years.
When no three members of the council agreed on an option, Moore proposed one of the plans that did not include steps.
“We had 12 different choices. We started off by ruling some out (the open pay range plans), but then there was inability to get three votes for any of the remaining ways, and I think at that point it’s appropriate to step back and say, ‘What do you care about more?’” he said.
His proposal did not gain three votes, and ultimately Feinberg, Newton and Onley agreed on the system that included steps and gave employees lump-sum bonuses. Feinberg said she felt the annual leave option was more fiscally responsible than the lump-sum option but wanted the steps.
“I concluded I would much rather have a compromise and broker something we could get a majority for, and if that meant I had to move from something I wanted to do, which was the annual leave awards, it was more important to me (to get something passed),” Feinberg said.
She added she could live with the lump-sum awards because that does not bind the city’s finances in future years. Feinberg said she was happy with the hybrid system for the unions and the open pay range for the other employees.
“I am pleased that we were able to have a hybrid form so that we can really again recruit and retain specifically in our police,” she said. “For the administrative staff, I do think (the open pay range) is a more progressive way. I’ve said that from the beginning.”