Warner Robins council questions pay raise policy

chwright@macon.comJune 17, 2013 

WARNER ROBINS -- Pay raises should require City Council approval, some council members said after learning of at least 10 raises the mayor gave over the past year without their knowledge.

“I don’t think any single politician, or person, should have the ability to give raises,” said Councilman Mike Daley.

Under a policy that allows the mayor to give individuals up to 10 percent raises without council approval, Mayor Chuck Shaheen upped the pay for 12 employees. Council members Daley, Mike Brashear, Daron Lee, Carolyn Robbins and Paul Shealy said they knew about a couple of the raises but not all, and they are going to press forward with changing the policy. Councilman Mike Davis declined comment.

“Then, you don’t need a strong mayor,” Shaheen said when told of the idea of getting council approval. “The mayor is the CEO of the city.”

Council members agreed Shaheen acted within his power to give raises but questioned the procedure that allows him to do so. They also questioned what those raises have done for a recent salary study and why certain employees were chosen over others.

Individual raises

Last year, council implemented a payroll study that was supposed to level the city’s pay scale after two decades without a review of the system. Some employees received raises, while others were deemed to have an adequate salary for their position and tenure. Still, some employees disagreed.

Among those were Fire Chief Robert Singletary and Recreation Director James Dodson. While council publicly declined raises for the two last summer, Shaheen felt they deserved it.

In October, he approved 10 percent raises for each, according to documents The Telegraph obtained through a public records request. Dodson now makes $89,000, and Singletary makes $93,000.

Shaheen also approved 10 percent raises for his administrative secretary, taking her to a salary of $34,000, and the city’s only traffic signal analyst, taking him to a $43,000 annual salary. He also approved a 5 percent raise for Community Development Director Robert Sisa (up to $83,000), a 4 percent raise for the building maintenance superintendent (up to $50,000) and a 3 percent raise for the newly named assistant police chief (up to $78,000).

None of those employees were recommended for base salary increases in the approved pay study. All but one received one-time equity payments for their time with the city. The Carl Vinson Institute of Government, which conducted the study, recommended approving appeals from the assistant police chief and the traffic signal analyst, upgrading their pay grades, but did not suggest how much of a raise to give.

In all, the raises amount to about $35,000 of the $38 million general fund.

“A pay increase is a valid exercise of the mayor’s powers under the pay plan (because) all raises were within the budget,” said Bryan Fobbus, human resources director. He added that council must approve anything that increases the budget or changes the pay plan.

Shaheen said the employees he gave raises to have been overlooked in the past and earned them.

Dodson is the longest-serving department director and the lowest paid, even with a bachelor’s degree and serving on a state recreation board. The administrative secretary is doing five people’s jobs, Shaheen said. The traffic signal analyst is always on call. The building maintenance superintendent is “the hardest working employee I’ve ever met,” Shaheen said.

“He’s here at 3 a.m. every morning, and I have to make him leave at 8 p.m.,” he added.

In January, records show Shaheen also signed off on five more 10 percent raises in the fire department after a promotion of one firefighter placed that employee above others with more seniority.

Need to know

Brashear, Daley, Lee and Robbins said they were vaguely aware of raises for Dodson and Singletary because Shaheen told them his thoughts in a closed session last summer, something Shaheen said he neither had to do nor did his predecessors do.

Shealy said the mayor told them about Sisa as well, though he couldn’t recall being informed of any others.

“I guess I could have gone through open records and gotten that information,” Daley said of the raises. “But we’re on the same team.”

In Perry and Centerville, all pay raises go through council one way or another. Like Warner Robins, the city councils approve merit and pay scale adjustments with the fiscal budgets. The city administrator in Centerville and the city manager in Perry then distribute raises based on that decision. In Perry, an employee whose manager proposes an additional raise outside of a promotion cannot receive a raise without council approval.

Centerville City Administrator Patrick Eidson pointed out Warner Robins has a different form of government.

“That may play a part in it,” he said.

In Warner Robins, the mayor serves as the manager of the city in addition to his City Council responsibilities. In the other two cities, the mayor is more of a ceremonial role.

“We don’t have seven CEOs,” Shaheen said. “We have one.”

Council members said they agreed with Dodson’s raise and understood the assistant police chief’s. All but Shealy wanted to know what basis the mayor had for the others. No written explanations exist in deciding what percent raise was given to whom and why none of the other more than 500 city employees were given raises.

Performance evaluations haven’t been given since Shaheen took office in 2010, and they were spotty before that. Shaheen said in October he wasn’t aware city procedures called for him to complete written evaluations, and the process needed to be updated.

Shaheen said last week that department directors requested the raises. He is over department directors and his administrative assistant. He gave what was requested, he said.

“I don’t think it’s fair, especially with the number of people who are underpaid,” Lee said.

Robbins said spot raises could create the very salary inequities they paid the Carl Vinson Institute $40,000 to help correct.

“We need to keep the pay scale study under control,” Robbins said. “It’s breaking what we just paid for.”

Brashear, Daley, Robbins and Shealy said when the mayor informed them last summer of the procedure allowing him to give discretionary raises, they began talking about changing it. Other city business has gotten in the way, though.

“Right then, we should have taken a stance,” Robbins said. “Everyone was trying to get along.”

To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.

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