Tuesday August 14, 2012. After months of meetings, proposals by five contractors and the Columbus Fire Department, the Columbus Board of Works voted Tuesday to accept the proposal of Columbus Regional Hospital to provide ambulance service for the next four years. (Joe Harpring | The Republic)
Mayor Kristen Brown is dropping her efforts to pursue a 2.5-percent raise for Columbus city employees and additional $5,000 pay for seven positions, six of them department heads, that she said are key to the city’s functions.
That makes a 3 percent cost-of-living raise for all 440 city employees plus elected officials, given preliminary approval by the City Council on Sept. 4, all but a foregone conclusion.
The council gave overwhelming support to that salary-increase plan at that meeting, despite objections from Brown and council member Aaron Hankins. A second approval is needed at Tuesday’s 6 p.m. meeting at City Hall, 123 Washington St.
“In my mind, they spoke overwhelmingly,” Brown said. “I don’t think I have any influence on them that would matter at all.”
Brown considers the seven positions (planning director, city engineer, garage director, police chief, city attorney, director of
operations/finance and administrative executive) critical and the employees among the city’s best. She fears losing them to other jobs that pay more.
The mayor initially wanted raises for the seven positions and used a salary analysis to support her argument. The analysis compared what Columbus pays those who hold these positions to what they are paid in Bloomington, Carmel, Fishers, Greenwood, Lafayette, Noblesville, Valparaiso and Westfield.
“We were looking at what we believed were good, comparable cities. We were looking at progressive communities like Columbus,” Brown said.
The analysis showed that Columbus’ garage director, police chief, city attorney and administrative executive were paid less than all of their peers from the study.
When the council pushed back on raising pay for the positions, Brown asked for the bonus money, which she called merit pay.
The council said not considering the city’s other department heads for merit pay was unfair.
They also asked that criteria be set and met before any bonus money is distributed.
A 2.5 percent cost-of-living-raise for all city employees plus the $5,000 merit pay would raise the seven positions to a point where none would be the lowest paid compared to the other cities and closer to the middle.
“This attempt was merely a step in my overall efforts to bring best practices from the private sector into government, which tends to be relatively inefficient,” said Brown, who was a corporate software executive before running for mayor.
“Every successful leader understands that priority number one is to attract and retain outstanding key leaders, set very high performance expectations and hold them accountable. The individuals in those roles are outstanding,” she said.
Jeff Logston, the city’s director of operations and finance, said the seven employees didn’t seek the raises.
“That was at the mayor’s discretion and direction,” he said.
The public nature of the request has made the situation a little uneasy for those seven, Logston said.
“It is a unique position to work in a governmental unit when just about everything is open to the public,” he said.
The mayor noted that all the positions for which she sought merit pay required either four-year degrees, advanced degrees or specialized training and certifications, or a combination of them. Those skills, Brown said, make these employees “highly valued by the private sector.”
A 3 percent raise leaves the positions ranked about where they are now compared to peers in other Indiana cities.
The garage director, police chief, city attorney and administrative executive still would be the lowest paid in their groups.
Council member Dascal Bunch, who abstained from voting at the last meeting, said he’s open to a “little give and take on both sides.”
Bunch said the mayor wanting an additional $5,000 for only certain positions was problematic.
However, reviewing whether salaries of certain positions are underpaid and need to be increased is something he said he is willing to consider.
Logston said the city is close to hiring a human resources director. One of that person’s top priorities will be to conduct a citywide salary review and compare them to other municipalities to see if they need to be increased.
The vast majority of the city’s employees are at the maximum of their position’s salary range set by the City Council, Logston said.
City police and firemen can move up the ranks and earn more money, but many city employees don’t have the same opportunity, he added.
Brown said she’ll continue to move all city employees to a performance-based raise model.
Departments would be given a certain amount of money to disperse for raises and would do so according to how their employees performed, she explained.
That, too, will face challenges, Brown said, because some employees already are at the maximum salary allowed for the position under the city’s salary ordinance.
The day after the most recent City Council meeting, Hankins submitted to The Republic a letter to the editor, published Sept. 9, in which he criticized the council for giving themselves pay raises. Hankins had voted against the 3 percent increase.
In the letter, Hankins said City Council members are part-time employees who don’t rely on their council pay to live and shouldn’t qualify for a cost-of-living raise. He also argued that the City Council members’ employers, the taxpayers, didn’t approve a raise.
Think your friends should see this? Share it with them!
All content copyright ©2013 The Republic, a division of Home News Enterprises unless otherwise noted.