Monday, November 22, 2010

UPDATED EDITORIAL: City staff reins in Council on salary decisions.

UPDATED EDITORIAL ON 11/29:  One thing I've learned about city council is their dependence on staff  for the information they need.  The influence staff  has over Council can make a councillor's job run smoothly and with respect, or run rough.

So, it doesn't take a new councillor long  to accept the bridle on salary decisions.  (66% of the general operating fund pays for Staff compensation expenditures)

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Salaries, benefits and *COLA's appear strictly "off limits" to Council.   "The Council does not have a role in contract negotiations" says the Chair.  What about non-contract?   Ask about compensation and it's always possible the Administration could willingly, or not, withhold certain information that could help.  Should Council need reassurances and approval, the Mayor may load their study sessions with executives and managers.  Mr. Mayor, as Chief of Staff, controls the information and attention council so values.  It's no wonder the tail appears to wag the dog on guarded salary policy decisions.

Salaries and benefits comprise over 66% of the General Fund, yet Council gives it only "a percent" of their  time.  Council was surprised when they learned HR had already locked in first year, $340,007 of  $680,015 biennium cost-of-living-adjustment.   We are in the worst economy since the Great Depression and the Administration not only proposes a *COLA but locks away half of it from council oversight.

Our city workers are professional, personable and very capable.  I admire their expertise and patience with the public.  A 1% cost-of-living-adjusting is appropriate if Redmond's 624 city workers were underpaid or falling behind in a strong economy.   But, they're paid well with non-uniform *COLA's higher than the CPI -Washington in a deflationary economy. 

Each year, for the last seven years, cost-of-living-increases averaged 5% for FIRE, 3.2% for POLICE and 2.7% for City Hall.(secretaries, planners, engineers).  With council oversight, Management could set the tone for the city's six bargaining units by 'refusing' their COLA, but Council would need resolve they haven't shown.

According to Public Record Requests, the average 2010 salary and benefits (see employee list) for each of the Mayor's 624 full time city employees is $108,136 .... this covers every job from the city van driver and administrative assistants, the associate planners and firemen to managers and their nine executives.  Many will get bonuses or merit increases in the next two years.  But, a cost-of-living adjustment to already competitive pay levels while raising property taxes in this economy is unconscionable. 

Staff wages don't factor a 4.4%  increase in overtime, a 24% increase in supplemental help, and contingency reserves for future bonuses in 2011-2012.  If council could get a grip for once and say NO to the 0.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment, they'd have $340,007 for critical services, capital funds, debt service and the other needs Councillor Myers and members have identified.  My wife suggested jobs lost to the Mayor's layoffs might even be saved.

Councillors recently accepted their first pay increase in six years.  Their modest salary is now only $950/month for their 90 hours of personal life they sacrifice each month for our community. Finance Chair Councillor Hank Margeson has done a stellar job running the budget.

After four years of stagnant pay, the Mayor now wants "his" -and he's worth it.  Our town is growing into a city and needs the attention of a professional at the helm.  Future qualified mayoral candidates will be attracted by a salary a Redmond mayor deserves.

Staff has gotten "theirs" every single budget cycle.  All it takes are four or more councillors with true grit to pound their stake in the ground this one time, is this economy, and cut the proposed, relatively minimal 0.5% cost-of-living-adjustment planned for 2012.  That's less than short Starbucks latte/day for each city employee!

By Bob Yoder

*Councillor David Carson wrote in a 12/7 email, the city gave "1% salary increases" not "COLA's".

City of Redmond salaries and benefits recorded here:
http://redmondcity.blogspot.com/p/local-government.html

Please send your comments to Finance Council Chair Hank Margeson:  hmargeson@redmond.gov or comment below. 

Sources:  Public Record Requests,  Salary Commission meetings (2),  Budget By Priority meetings (4), Budget Hearing (1),  Items from the Audiance (1).  2011-2012 Preliminary Budget Manual, a two-hour. meeting with a councillor, City Council meetings on TV (5), 2008 - 2009 Preliminary Budget Manual.

16 comments:

Tom said...

Pretty cynical Bob. Having served on the RCC for 8 years, I have nothing but the highest regard for the staff at City Hall. Your implication that staff holds the council hostage to salary increases is way off target at best, and slanderous at worst. Take it from someone who has seen it on the inside and the outside. Redmond is very fortunate to have such a professional staff.

Tom Paine

Bob Yoder said...

Tom, I didn't say they were not professional. In fact, I said they are "professional and very capable." My opinion is they don't need a COLA in this economy and that council hasn't even addressed the issue in their many hours of budget deliberations.

wbblackbu said...

While I've thought for years that the Council needed independent staff assistance, the combination of this need and your Eymanesque treatment of COLAs brings two issues together in a disengenuous way. COLAs are one thing, staff assistance to Council is another.

Bob Yoder said...

MY LETTER TO FINANCE CHAIR HANK MARGESON:

Dear Hank -

I've watched many of your 2011-12 budget proceedings, attended most BBP meetings, and spoke at your budget Hearing. I know you feel you need the 1% property tax. After all, it's only $7/year for an average home! I'm asking you consider balancing that tax against the COLA the Mayor says he needs for his employees. (My wife asks how many city layoffs could have been saved without that COLA.) You waited six years for your adjustment. Why can't staff wait a few years for their next adjustment, too, until the economy gets stronger and we have significant inflation? With an average compensation of $108,000, by no means is staff poorly paid. And, It's only a 0.5% reduction!

At this time, the depressed economy and absence of inflation doesn't warrant a COLA "raise". I know it's not easy, but please muster the troops and say NO to the Administration's proposed COLA .

Howard Frazier said...

Seriously, Tom and Hank…. is it really such a stretch to think that the input from staff on wage and benefit issues might be biased and that their input might be a little slanted in their direction? And is it a stretch that the availability of administrative assistance to the council might be somehow correlated to these issues?

Unfortunately, government has been using the threat of withholding service to the public in much the same way. When revenue is below expectations, the first services that are mentioned for reduction are those which the public values most. Sort of an ‘arm twisting’ to convince the public that there is no way to keep the services they want, except to pay higher taxes.

If you are having trouble understanding the hypothesis that Bob described, perhaps it’s because it’s difficult to understand how in the current economic downturn and with the public sentiment pretty clear on these matter, why the city council wouldn’t seek the adjustments he described. As you should know, when business and economic activity is reduced, it makes sense to reduce expenses to mitigate the impact of lower tax revenues. Raising taxes in response will further slow recovery.

Rather than ‘killing the messenger’; why not make the case why the COLA adjustments are a good thing and should not be reduced given the points made in the original article. Your participation in the discussion here is appreciated because it provides important insight to our government leadership, but it would be more helpful if you discussed the actual topic rather than merely respond defensively.

Tom said...

The implication made here is clear. To accuse staff of withholding assistance unless they get a COLA is implying that not only are they unprofessional (despite the disingenuous statement otherwise), but unethical.

Does staff need a COLA? I don't know. Ask your elected representatives on the RCC who have studied this more than anyone here has. Having sat through many executive sessions on bargaining, I can tell you that state law handcuffs government for Fire and Police negotiations. In my opinion, there is an intra-governmental comparability requirement that is flawed. This comparability issue then bleeds over and and becomes an issue for all staff. It is up to the council to negotiate these tricky waters. Let's give them their due, they have kept us much more fiscally sound than many other cities.

Bob Yoder said...

Yes, Council(and Mayor) have done well. And, it doesn't hurt to have the Microsoft economic engine in your back-yard.

My intention is not so much to blame staff for withholding assistance from Council and the engaged public (which they can.) It's more about influencing Council by their presence and resources at hand.

Pat Vache' describes our professional staff as "our most precious resource". Mr. Myers claims city workers "are our top priority" (so why isn't it EVER on the table? Isn't Council forgetting something? The taxpayer has to pay the Administration's salary. (66% of the budget). Wouldn't you say WE are a pretty important resource, too?

As for out-of-control bargaining unit salaries, it's up to Council to empower MANAGEMENT to lead the way and to stand up to City Hall union, for once, as Mayor Ives attempted (but with no support from RCC).

Howard Frazier said...

Tom, you may not be reading the article carefully. City staff is not criticized, but rather praised. He mentions that “…the Administration may withhold help when needed” and later; “Mr. Mayor, as Chief of Staff, controls the information and attention council so values.” As I read it, the implication is that the Mayor (the administration) could reduce services to the council if headcount is reduced. Another implication is that services might be reduced if the council did not approve certain wage/benefit increases. You may call that unsubstantiated, but certainly not implausible.

Rep. Deborah Eddy said...

Email from Rep. Deborah Eddy:

Thanks much for the item on salary policy. It’s going to be an interesting discussion at the state level. J /deb

Anonymous said...

The challenge I see here is that looking at staff average wage ignores both the affect wages have on individuals and how it all relates to previously agreed contracts that were bargained in "good faith". Additionally, City Hall has reduced staffing levels in many departments resulting in increased work load on many - reduced work force has also meant lost opportunities to make use of vacation times. My union did negotiate in good faith to forego our COLA for 2011 but to negotiate out into 2012 seems unreasonable. Rather, there should be some kind of re-opener instead that agrees to look at wages and the economy without having to bargain away their COLA for 2012 in 2010.

Bob Yoder said...

Thank you for throwing your hat in the ring Anony11/27 - I hope others will comment, too! I still think the Executives and Management could lead the bargaining units to more realistic cost-of-living-increases with an adjustment in policy by council and leaderhip of the Mayor. According to HR exec Sievers many bargaining units took the 1% for 2011 - maybe not yours? Too bad not all vacation days couldn't be used for some. Hopefully, next year things will smooth out once the work force stabilizes. Thanks, again Anony! I hope others will chime in...

Anonymous said...

I don't work for Redmond but for another local government.

Anonymous said...

Compensation is always a delicate matter. It is important that the head of the city (the Mayor) receive both a competitive wage to attrack the best and the brightest but it should also be heirarchal in nature to demonstrate their authority and place in government and the process. How/why a city staff member was making more than the Mayor in 2003 begs a lot of questioning. Still, it would appear that every position, including the Mayor's position, has received an increase in wages since 2003 of varying degrees, largely I'm sure as some positions exist at the will of the Mayor, the will of Council, or who have bargained in good faith via their Union. It seems only "fair" in these economic times that either everyone gets a COLA or no one gets one and that you can't parse it out to some and not others. I don't agree that COLA's should be a fixed number such as .5% rather it should be reflective of the real cost of living and, like many other contracts, should be a percentage of some index that is mutually acceptable. During times of deflation, there would be no wage increase except for those that reflect merit or step increases. During inflation, wages should try and keep pace with the true cost of living, not only for the employees' benefit and stability in our workforce, but for our economy as a whole as people with no wages don't buy but for those thing that are essential - the thing that drives our economy up is how we spend our "disposable" income.
Again, planning for 2012 in 2010 is still too early in my book but whatever the decision, it should be universal - either they all get it or no one.

Bob Yoder said...

Dear Anony"comp is always a delicate matter"

Yes, I agree "it's only fair that everyone gets a COLA" when one is due. However, historically the safety workers have received a much larger COLA owing to their association with bargaining units. (per quotes).

I agree with you that COLA's "should be reflective of the real cost of living...and be a percentage of some index that is mutually acceptable". Unfortunately, the Safety CIP is higher than Management's CIP owing to unions and so feelings amongst staff aren't "mutual".

City Council takes the policy of using a "non-uniform CIP" rather than the CIP-Washington. Almost all municipalities in WA. ST. use the CIP-Washington (ref: Salary Commission) which is historically lower than Redmond's "non-uniform" CIP. The Redmond "non uniform" CIP is subjective and biased-up because it takes into consideration costs of various private business and corporations, besides governments. HR will always tell you that a few private organizations will not cooperate and share their labor costs. Are they trying to create doubt that Microsoft's high salaries aren't shared? Owing to the close relationship of MSFT with the Redmond Chamber via Mr. Stanton, I's quite probable MSFT shares their high salaries with the City - and in doing so, biases the Redmond index higher than the CIP-WA.

I'm asking the Council (right here) to change their CIP policy with it's inconsistencies and implement the more objective CIP-WA.

Anony, you are also recommending policy changes too! It's good to think about policy because that's what Mr. Margeson points out as Council's primary roleand I quote Hank in an 11/23 email:

-- "The Council does not have a role in contract negotiations. Once an agreement is reached, Council respects the process too much to interfere." H. Margeson

I fully understand Council's role, though they will make exceptions. Line item cuts are at times made. Some items are scaled up or down. COLAS are significant and scaling up or down seem warranted.

In the least, the timing and selection of which CIP method to use are policy decisions. A second policy of Council "is not to have a role in contract negotiations." Council could take a leadership role, in some capacity, to influence bargaining contract outcomes.

Thanks again, Anony, for sharing your ideas and thoughts and stimulating conversation! I hope others will carry this converation further....and if a councilmember, staff or commissioner wants to join UNannonymously, all the better... Best, Bob!

Bob Yoder said...

To Tom Paine -
Thank you for taking the time to comment on this post...from the very start. Because of your comments, I revisited this post several times and made changes, especially with regard to staff's role and how they go about their work. Sometimes a few words can make all the difference in intent. Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I value contributors tremendously and edit when called out. Sincerely, Bob

Bob Yoder said...

Dear Mr. Mayor and Council -

I understand why I am so distrustful of the Administration about Salaries & Wages and Benefits. It's far more a Council problem than staff-information issue.

Council has no oversight on compensation. 66% of the General Fund is invisible! That's the problem!

Salaries, benefits and COLA's appear strictly "off limits" to Council. Says the Chair: "The Council does not have a role in contract negotiations. Once an agreement is reached, Council respects the process too much to interfere. What about non-contract employees?

As Mr. Myers says, "staff is our top priority". If so, then make it a priority! Compensation constitutes 66% of the Operating Budget. Can't you at least have a conversation about the non-contract employees and show a little oversight?

These are terrible times, even in our bubble. The President just froze all federal salaries (except military) for two years. The State is in the pits. The County has safety and human services issues. Please don't be numb to our world.

Please revisit your compensation review policy.

Thank you,
Bob Yoder