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Mayor jabs manager over employee reclassifications

By Staff | Jan 29, 2015

Monday’s City Council meeting includes a followup discussion of the city’s classification and total compensation study that has been ongoing for more than 14 months and little else.

The study was placed on the agenda after Mayor Marni Sawicki criticized City Manager John Szerlag at the end of last Monday’s meeting for not providing update information, or selective information, after she says she made several requests for it.

Sawicki’s frustration boiled over on the dais during the council member reports portion of last Monday’s meeting. It became public because Sawicki was reporting on her recent trip to a Mayor’s Conference in Washington, D.C., and said the idea of a State of the City report should become an annual event.

“It is a time when you can look back at the year and lay out the good things that were accomplished and ask where did we fall short,” Sawicki said. “I think our classification, compensation and salary ranges has been talked about since I was elected in 2013.

“It’s something that just sits out there. I know we’ve (council) asked several times about it, but this is going to be our UEP,” she added. “Right now I have no confidence that the City Manager and I can come to any agreement. It’s become a policy issue.”

Sawicki views the employee reclassification study as “the single biggest issue facing this city.” She said she has asked for updates repeatedly and only received selective information.

“There are some things I have asked for repeatedly that I’m not getting,” she said indicting Szerlag. “I don’t have a working relationship with the city manager because of this.”

Sawicki asked her fellow council members how they should proceed on the flow of information. She said her requests began soon after taking office more than 14 months ago.

The study originally was targeted to be completed by April, a deadline council negotiated during a report session several weeks ago. Council members appeared willing to wait until then for the results before passing judgement.

“This forum is not where we should be discussing this,” said Councilmember Jim Burch. “We were given a deadline of April when all the information will be presented. If that does not happen, then I will not be very happy about it. Frankly, I wish this conversation was not taking place and should be placed on the agenda. If there is a positive gain out of this it won’t be tonight.”

During the discussion the statement was made that the progress of the study had been delayed. Human Resources director Lisa Sonego was called to the podium to clear up any confusion.

“It’s May, not April,” Sonego said. “We are on track for May for the first portion of the study and the full report with total compensation in June-July.”

The city team and a consultant is wrestling to rectify a situation officials say developed in the last several years when staff positions were cut and remaining employees were asked to merge duties with other positions or to step up to assume additional responsibilities from other job classifications without additional compensation. Sonego said they are looking at more than 220 different job classifications.

Sawicki said she became so frustrated with the lack of response from Szerlag that she resorted to submitting public records requests.

Council members who commented agreed that no member should have to resort to public records requests.

When allowed to defend himself, Szerlag said, “I’m not going to argue in this (public) format. I will say that I can delegate authority but I can’t delegate responsibility, but I do delegate accountablility. Do I research every request from the council especially on personnel matters, absolutely not.”

He later noted that the issues associated with the classification and compensation is something he has never experienced anywhere else in more than 20 years of municipal administration. He said when a council sets a salary range it’s up to management to decide what to offer a candidate within that range, but an city ordinance requires council permission to hire an employee above the midpoint of the salary range.

Council members wrapped up the discussion by making it very clear to Sonego and Szerlag that they would be very upset if the completed study is not presented by the June 15 council meeting, which is the last meeting before the summer hiatus.

There also will be some preliminary discussion of employee compensation at a 4:30 p.m. workshop meeting at the Nicholas Annex on Wednesday, Feb. 4.

A draft ordinance that would allow the city manager to hire up to the top of a pay is on the agenda.