WARNER ROBINS — A look at who is charged with running Warner Robins has unearthed some troubling truths: City officials have failed over the years to follow protocols put in place when hiring and promoting workers.
The information, obtained by The Telegraph through open records requests, shows missteps that have led to errors in the entire system. Workers are being paid well over the city’s salary scale. Some are earning less than counterparts who started years after them. Department heads make close to six figures and their education levels don’t exceed high school.
One high-ranking administrator only received a GED diploma, and no college degree.
City officials are split on whether other educational paths — including classes completed through the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia — or on-the-job experience are enough to allow someone without the recommended education to continue making so much money while helming many high-dollar projects.
When James Dodson began as the city’s parks and recreation director in 1991, he was paid $37,200 annually. The problem was that job was classified under grade 14 of the city’s pay scale, which indicated at the time that his salary should have been much higher.
The issue was never addressed.
Instead, Dodson continued to receive standard pay increases in the form of annual cost-of-living and performance increases.
In August, he will have worked for the city 19 years, the longest-serving department head in the city. But four of the city’s top-level employees — all of whom have made their careers in Warner Robins — make at least $10,000 more than him.
Similar issues have been cleared up with other employees in the same time frame.
Joe Musselwhite took over as head of the city’s public works department the same month Donald Walker was sworn in as the city’s 11th mayor in 1994. The promotion he received in his transfer from his previous role as code enforcement officer gave him a salary of $34,251. It was significantly less than the $41,036 Dodson made at the time. Both were department heads. Both were in the same pay scale class.
At $47,277 by the end of 1995, Musselwhite was making slightly more than Dodson’s $46,988.
Dodson declined to comment on this story.
In December 1995, the City Council had approved a more than $5,000 raise for Musselwhite that, according to minutes from the council’s meeting on Dec. 5, sought to bring his pay up to scaled regulations.
“I don’t deal with any of that. I just work,” said Musselwhite, further declining to comment for this story.
Over the years, others also saw their pay creep past that of Dodson from merit and performance increases — some reaching as high as 10 percent.
Many of the job descriptions for the top-level jobs in the city include recommendations for candidates with higher education degrees or a respectable amount of experience in the job’s field. Some were brought in from other departments or asked to apply by others looking to fill openings — lacking the education, and with little to no experience at all.
Louis Prieto wrote earlier this year in a qualifications summary in his personnel file that he was transferred to the city’s information systems department from his job as the fixed asset manager, which required him to inventory the city’s “capital items.”
In his new job, that no longer applied.
“My qualifications for this task were very limited,” Prieto wrote, mentioning he only knew how to load programs and external hardware such as printers. “I advised the city clerk of my limitations/qualifications and suggested to him that the city needed someone with more experience in the field that I had. The city clerk told me at that time there was an immediate need for help in the department because the current help had quit. ... So, I began my new journey in network user support.”
Prieto was reclassified as user support in April 1998, which has a pay grade of 11. His beginning pay, at $28,180, was below the minimum annual salary of $35,037 established for the pay grade.
Prieto is only one example of employees mismatched with the jobs they were given.
Musselwhite came to the city in 1992 as a code enforcement officer, having previously operated a landscaping service and having worked just under two years as a professional estimator for a now defunct company. Just over two years later, he was taking over the city’s public works department, responsible for overseeing millions of dollars in city projects.
Dramatic pay increases
While a few top-level employees were paid less than their jobs required, others received significant boosts in pay over their careers.
Some happened almost overnight.
When Montie Walters became the assistant utilities director in April 2007, it came along with a 23-percent pay increase to $53,220, up from the $43,220 he made as a pollution control technician. By September, he had received another promotion, this time to utilities superintendent. It came with a hefty pay increase to about $80,000.
In less than a year’s time, Walters had received an 85-percent pay increase.
Section 610 of the city’s rules and regulations on promotions dictates that when a promotion takes place for an employee at or above the minimum rate for the pay class to which the employee is being promoted, he or she may receive a pay increase up to 10 percent, at the concurrence of the department director and human resources director.
“The total increase will not exceed 10 percent,” the document states.
At the time of his first promotion and grade change, which went from grade 10 to grade 13, Walters was making just more than the minimum salary established for grade 13. By year’s end, he was making about $13,000 more than the maximum of grade 14, where he was placed after becoming the utilities superintendent.
Walters is one of 18 city employees, not including Mayor Chuck Shaheen, who make more than $67,087.70, the city’s highest maximum salary attainable according to its pay scale. About 130 employees in the city make more than their pay grade allows.
Among those are also Gary Lee, executive director of the Warner Robins Redevelopment Agency. He made more than the mid-point pay range for his position — $57,503.89 — when he was hired in 2007. City Clerk Alton Mattox was hired in January at a rate of $75,000, nearly $8,000 more than the city’s maximum rate of pay for the pay grade under which his job falls. Warner Robins Human Resources Manager Bryan Fobbus said other variables taken into account, including the predecessor’s salary and the pending salary study, are responsible for that.
Overdue for an update
Many of the issues date back to the 1990s, the last time regular revisions were done to job descriptions and requirements, as well as the city’s pay scale. Some job descriptions received by The Telegraph were written on word processors, or typed by hand using technology several decades out of date.
Shaheen said the long-stalled Georgia-Robins Aerospace Maintenance Partnership was among the first duties on which he put his focus in the first months of his term. With that project now on autopilot as an environmental assessment is completed on the land designated for the project, he plans to begin looking through job descriptions to see what needs updating.
The City Council recently approved a move to have a pay and classification study done for the city, hoping to make changes to the current system, which many believe to be in dire need of an update.
“We’ve got to complete this pay and classification study. We know it hasn’t been reviewed since 1996,” said Fobbus. “We know it’s got to be updated to be competitive and fair, whereby employees have a chance to move up through the system.”
Councilman John Williams said a lot of people in the city have been underpaid — and continue to be underpaid — for the work they have done for the city. He has high hopes that past missteps will be avoided in the future, with positive results that will trickle down to the residents.
“I think we’re going in a complete new direction,” said Williams, who took office in 2008. “It’s a new day in Warner Robins. You’re going to see improvements you should’ve seen years ago.”
Experience, education and trust
Shaheen said he has no problems with employees not having the desired education background sought for their positions as long as they’re deemed trustworthy and capable of doing the job.
“What I’m looking for out of someone, first and foremost, is trust,” said Shaheen, who took office in January. “We have to trust them with the direction we’re going to move our city ... that they’re going to do the right thing. I’ve got to trust that they’re going to do their jobs. The second thing is their qualifications. I don’t want to hire people for failure. I want to hire people at the right time for success.”
While there are several staffers who haven’t achieved post-secondary degrees, Shaheen said he feels education they’ve obtained through the Carl Vinson Institute of Government in classes designed around the jobs they do daily are better suited to their needs.
“I think education and experience go hand-in-hand. But what they learn at the Carl Vinson Institute ... can give them more knowledge than they could ever get in a college classroom because they’re dealing specifically with (their expertise),” he said.
Not so, says Councilman Daron D. Lee, who said he fears lawsuits filed against the city for work done by employees not properly prepared for their jobs. Because of the lack of education of several high-level employees, he feels projects are being mismanaged and money is being wasted as some projects lag.
“Something should be done, even if it means bringing in someone who’s qualified,” said Lee, who took office in January. “That’s why certain projects haven’t been completed. Some in those key positions ... don’t have the experience to lead those projects into a better light. Something should be done, and (the mayor and council) know something should be done.”
Lee said city workers were asked to update what résumé information was on file with the city around the time of the city’s government retreat in March. One question after the information was received was whether some would lose their jobs because of the information.
“I’m not saying they should lose their jobs, but there are certain decisions that should be made,” he said. “In all fairness, (some people) need to be removed from those positions. They need to be paid in accordance to their experience and education.
“We came into office talking change, but what have we done?”
To contact writer Marlon A. Walker, call 256-9685.