The original proposal, raised during the precouncil discussion, came from Councilman Ricky Simpson. He proposed a “one time raise” of $50 per employee for one day, at a cost of about $10,000 overall. He added that one city employee, his son-in-law, would have to be exempted from the one-time raise, but that he intended to pay the bonus himself.
The money would come from a $250,000 reserve fund created the last time city taxes were raised.
Council President Horace Patterson said he had served on the council when employees were given gift certificates at Thanksgiving and Christmas until they had been told this violates state law. He said he had asked City Manager Brian Muenger to look into the legality of the proposed one-time raises.
City attorney Michael O’Brien said giving bonuses to employees for work they had already performed violated at least two state laws, depending on what the extra compensation was called. Councilman Joe Ballow said that surrounding cities had been able to do what Simpson was talking about, and when O’Brien said he didn’t know how, Ballow said “I need to know, because I will vote for this.”
O’Brien went on to explain that there was no case law and no attorney general’s opinions regarding such “one time pay raises,” but in his opinion they were a subterfuge, and he would not advise the council to approve such an action.
Mayor Larry Barton then asked what penalties the council might face, whether jail time or paying back improperly expended funds. O’Brien said that would ultimately be up to the district attorney.
Patterson said by his calculations the one time raise would come to about $37 per employee. He then raised the possibility of lifting the step-raise freeze and, later in the meeting, granting employees an additional paid holiday.
O’Brien also pointed out that Simpson’s language about exempting one employee was troubling, since legally that would constitute a denial of equal protection to that employee, in violation of both state and federal law. If there was a possible conflict of interest, Simpson’s only option would be to abstain from voting.
Simpson pointed out that Councilman Donnie Miller, who had not arrived yet, would also have to abstain, for similar reasons.
Ballow said he would fight for the raise in spite of the legal issues. “All of our sister cities all around us have done this, why are we still discussing it. This is getting on my nerves.”
“The council can do what it desires,” Patterson said. “But we are talking about the appearance of, or possibly the reality of violating the law. It’s not that I don’t want the employees to have this, I want them to have everything we can give them legally. But if it is illegal for us to give something to them, and it’s illegal for them to accept, that is a road that I do not want to travel.”
Patterson then gaveled the precouncil meeting adjourned. Minutes into the regular council meeting, Simpson got up from his seat saying “this is too upsetting” and left the council chamber. He did return before the council adjourned for the evening, however, and apologized for being overly emotional.
Patterson said “we have good people on this council, who are passionate about supporting our employees, but I am also sensitive to the rule of law, and the impact on the image of our city. I talked with Councilman Simpson about this, and while I believe it is wise to listen to our attorney, I also believe he is on to something. We have to communicate respect, and look at what we can do.” He then raised the possibility of the extra holiday and revisiting the step raises.
Simpson said he had always offered his employees yearly bonuses his business, and how they increased morale. “I’m trying to help,” he said. “I know how hard times are, especially around the holidays. I am always the first one to holler whenever the council does anything against any of the employees. I see other cities around us doing things for their employees, others doing things that we can’t, not even with our own money. We have to be very, very, very considerate of our employees, making sure they’re not feeling like they’re only here to make another $2 per day.”
Ballow said he co-owns a pawn-shop and understands that, while $50 might not mean very much to some people in the room, it meant a great deal to others. “All our sister cities have done this, and I will make the motion for us to give our employees a one day $50 pay raise.”
Simpson seconded the motion, but he, Miller and Patterson all abstained from voting, so it died.
“I want to help, but I want to make sure we are on sound legal footing,” Patterson said. “Not doing that is not in anyone’s best interest.”
Other options, including the holiday and step raises, were tabled until the next meeting, Dec. 16 at the Armstrong-Osborne Library. Muenger said the step raises would come up again during the budget sessions in April, and that the council would have more information on whether or not to proceed there at that time, when a better revenue picture was forming. He also asked that the employee committee be approached with the idea of the additional holiday.
Also Thursday, the council:
O Reappointed Ray Miller, Calvin McCrae and Jeff Roberts to the Airport Board, and saw them sworn in by Barton.
O Reappointed Niki Lawler to the Library Board.
O Tabled accepting Scenic Drive, Lookout Lane and Adams Ridge Lane for maintenance. At the time this item came up, Simpson had left the meeting and Councilman Jarvis Elston had not arrived yet. Miller abstained because he lives in that neighborhood.
O Approved auto, general liability and umbrella liability insurance policies for a total cos of $271,739.
O Approved 18 liens for weed abatement.
O Approved a contract with former city employee Kim Davidson to handle tax administration for $20 per hour for 35 hours per month for three months, with an option for another month.
O Approved a three year lease purchase with Nohab Business Products for equipment to scan and archive public documents dating back to the city’s founding.
O Approved a contract with InSite Engineering for design, construction, engineering and inspection services for a water main extension to serve the Citvillian Marksmanship Program.
O Distributed copies of the Historic Preservation Commission annual report.
O Heard Muenger report that some work on the Veteran’s Park project had been delayed by weather.