Crestwood Civil Service Board rejects one-time pay boost for city employees

By MIKE ANTHONY

Executive Editor

The Crestwood Civil Service Board voted last week to reject a proposal by City Administrator Petree Eastman to award one-time, lump-sum salary adjustments to city employees.

The three-member board — Chair Carol Wagner and members Richard Breeding and Devin Sauer — voted unanimously Dec. 21 to not endorse the proposal.

Board members instead said they would prefer to see the establishment of a comprehensive pay plan to address employee compensation even if such a plan cannot be fully funded immediately.

The Board of Aldermen voted 4-3 Dec. 13 to approve Eastman’s recommendation that full-time employees receive a $1,500 one-time, lump-sum pay adjustment and permanent part-time employees receive a $1,000 one-time, lump-sum payment adjustment.

The pay adjustments would be for city workers employed as of Dec. 6, but would exclude new hires and the city administrator, who began her duties in October.

As proposed, the one-time, lump-sum pay adjustments would be funded by using savings from positions that were unfilled during 2011. Savings from the unfilled positions totaled $161,982.95 while the cost of providing the pay adjustments would be $156,324.94.

Aldermen on Dec. 13 also approved the city’s 2012 budget, which does not include any increase in employee compensation for the third consecutive year.

The board directed City Attorney Rob Golterman to draft an ordinance to transfer sufficient funds from reserves in the fiscal 2012 general and park and stormwater funds to fund the pay adjustments. The ordinance is scheduled to be considered by the Board of Aldermen Tuesday, Jan. 10.

Eastman outlined her rationale for the pay adjustments to Civil Service Board members last week, saying, “One of the things, obviously, that I found when I first came aboard was that the employees were pretty down in the dumps about not seeing increases in their salary for the near term …”

Wagner earlier had termed employee morale as “lousy.”

“… I think the most crucial thing up here to those who are around here … at all know that the morale up here is lousy, that we are losing employees … I said the other day to somebody: See you next year, and they said: Maybe. And so we are not being fair to our employees …,” she said.

Mayor Jeff Schlink said Dec. 13 that he will veto the ordinance awarding the one-time pay adjustments if it is approved by aldermen. He reiterated his position last week at the Civil Service Board meeting that was attended by a handful of residents, including former Civil Service Board member Martha Duchild, former Ward 4 Alderman Steve Nieder and David Brophy.

The three residents voiced objections to Eastman’s proposal and cited the need for the establishment of a comprehensive pay and classification plan. Brophy and Du-child advocated using a pay plan adopted by the Board of Aldermen in October 2002 as a framework for a new plan.

That plan, designed to compensate employees based on their performance and the value of their job as determined by the marketplace — was repealed in 2007.

Though the Civil Service Board last year discussed on several occasions a pay plan proposed by a committee of nine employees, no action was ever taken to adopt it.

As he did Dec. 13, Schlink advocated a “big-picture” approach to solving the employee compensation issue.

“… My perspective is really stepping back and looking at the big picture, and that is looking to put together a funded pay plan, having the board make it a priority, using some of the momentum and consensus that we really do have on the board right now that we do need to do something,” he said. “And frankly, the year-end pay adjustment does not fix it. So let’s not try to deal with what we think might be a temporary solution, but let’s look at something that is more comprehensive.”

The city will face serious cash-flow issues in the very near future, Schlink noted.

“And there’s been talk of extending Proposition S that additional year that we can extend it and then from that period going forward, we would do a no-tax tax increase to essentially extend Proposition S perpetually,” he said. “For things like that to happen, people are going to remember that we had extra money and chose to give it to the employees. Now, of course, we’re all closer to the employees than the residents are.

“But I think what’s important is that those residents are never going to be as close to the employees as we are and so that’s the message that’s going to be out there … To try to move forward with a bigger plan, we’re really going to lose any traction that might be there …”

Duchild later said, “… One thing to address what the mayor had said — the board is behind a comprehensive pay plan. I think that’s pretty much a given at this point — that they have momentum. I think by going forward with an ordinance for bonuses would be a divisive issue and you lose that momentum. And again, the employees would be the ones who would suffer. If you don’t put the ordinance forward, work on a pay plan, residents … (would) see you’re being fiscally responsible. The employees will know that you are trying to sustain the financial health of the city. They will be glad for that. The board will have no reason for division. They will be able to agree and vote on a comprehensive pay plan. It’s a win-win situation if you skip the bonuses and focus on a pay plan.”

Wagner said, “Well, actually I really never took into consideration the thought that the residents might have — the impact it might have on giving out the bonuses.”

Eastman said, “… They’re not bonuses.”

Wagner said, “Pay adjustments or whatever. I never — I never considered thinking that possibly they would be upset …”

After the board voted to reject the proposal, Nieder suggested the Civil Service Board “send a recommendation back to the Board of Aldermen as to what you think they should probably do.”

Sauer said, “… I think that I’m in accord with the proposition that not marrying or tying whether or not it’s fully funded or not, that we make it a No. 1 priority to get a pay plan in effect that makes sense. To operate without one puts us into the range of a second-class city, as far as I’m concerned, and it should be a No. 1 priority. And that’s my recommendation.”

Nieder said, “Can I add one to it? Just one part to it for the heck of it? That it become a part of the budget-planning process every year because that has been ignored every year for past three years.”

Sauer said, “Well, what I said was, yeah, I mean you cannot say, in my opinion, that you should forgo re-establishing a pay plan because you don’t have the money …

“You’re marrying two ideas that are separate ideas to me. You have to have a pay plan and you have to have a budgetary process that’s driven by common sense. So, yes, you have to have both. But you can’t have one without the other, in my opinion, and that’s why we keep having these recurring problems and so I think it’s a major priority for the city.”

Nieder later said, “The budget creation comes from the bottom up. So it’s incumbent on the department heads to budget that in their process so that it comes up … through the city administrator, then to the Ways and Means Committee and then ultimately to the Board of Aldermen.

“That’s where the process has fallen apart for the last few years.”

Sauer said, “The reason, as you alluded to earlier, that a department head does not ask for a salary increase is because there’s no criteria under a pay plan … there’s no framework or structure in order for them to put in for that in the budgetary process.”

Nieder said, “… I totally agree with that.”

Sauer said, “This is completely dysfunctional.”