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Council debates personnel salaries

April 29, 2014
Pine Island Eagle

Two personnel actions requested by City Manager John Szerlag became the most hotly debated items on the City Council meeting agenda Monday night.

Szerlag brought two resolutions before council. One regarded the salary for Donald Cochran promoted to fire chief, a role in which he had been performing as interim chief for several months. The other resolution was seeking salary discretion for the position of executive assistant to the city manager, an ongoing process expecting to promote from within staff.

The city's personnel ordinance requires Szerlag to ask council for authority to offer certain staff position salaries higher than the midpoint of the established range for the position.

"Last year, City Council approved a resolution granting authority to offer up to the maximum of the salary range during the recruitment and hiring of an outside candidate for fire chief," Szerlag wrote council members in a memo. "The position reopened and I have promoted Don Cochran to fire chief. Unfortunately, the city's current personnel rules do not allow the same salary flexibility with the promotion of in-house candidates."

The personnel ordinance only allows staff promotions a maximum 10 percent increases in salary. Szerlag wanted to offer Cochran a salary of $120,000, which is $14,000 below the maximum amount for the position.

"These restrictions create an issue of fairness and consistency in our hiring processes as it relates to outside hires versus promotions of current employees," Szerlag wrote.

Councilmember Jim Burch questioned why the city manager should even have to bring personnel decisions to the council.

"That's his job. We shouldn't be involved in it," said Burch, who supported the resolution. "It doesn't sit well with me and if we need to change the ordinance down the road then we should do that."

Councilmember Rick Williams also favored the resolution.

"It's looks like a double standard," said Williams. "Folks outside are favored over our own personnel and that's not fair. We should encourage upward mobility among our people through promotions and pay."

The resolution hit a snag when Councilmembers Rana Erbrick, Richard Leon and Mayor Marni Sawicki took exception to the way the resolution was worded.

"I'm not comfortable with offering $13,000 over the midpoint of the range," said Erbrick. "It sends the wrong message to our other employees who have not had raises for seven years. I would like to see the resolution tightened up with specifics of the person and salary instead of being so broad."

Once the resolution was amended specifically naming Cochran and the salary that he negotiated with Szerlag, the measure passed unanimously.

However, the executive assistant's position resolution does not pertain to a specific candidate or salary at this time. The deadline for applying for the position had been extended for 20 more days since only five applications had been received. Despite reasonable assurances from Szerlag that he preferred to promote an in-house person to become his assistant, the resolution failed on a 4-4 vote, with Erbrick, Sawicki, Leon and Lenny Nesta casting the dissenting votes.

At the end of the 20-day extension, Szerlag said he will have to bring the matter back to council when the identifies the candidate and the competitive salary he decides to offer.

In other matters Monday night, council quickly passed two resolutions involving easements. One property is located at 2964 Surfside Boulevard and the other at 4937 and 4941 Triton Court.

Two resolutions were introduced at the meeting and May 12 was set for public hearings before council. Both resolutions involve marine improvement project deviations from code restrictions on boat canopies.

Council meets again next Monday, May 5.



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