PAWTUCKET — Late in its meeting on Wednesday night, the City Council gave first passage to some ordinances allowing for several City Hall job and salary changes that were proposed by the Grebien administration. However, two of the job changes, which resulted in substantial raises for these positions, drew some questions and criticism from several council members.
Before he took office and was still working with his transition team, Mayor Donald Grebien notified the city's Personnel Board in early December that, as then mayor-elect, he was proposing numerous personnel changes as part of trying to determine opportunities for cost savings.
In a Dec. 2 letter, Grebien notified the Personnel Board that he wanted to see eight non-union positions eliminated effective immediately when he took office on Jan. 3. These positions included the superintendent of fire alarms (currently unfilled), city engineer (currently unfilled) and a floater/receptionist/switchboard operator (currently unfilled), along with a Mayor's Office manager, government affairs aide, Mayor's Office secretary, Law Office secretary and Finance Office secretary.
Grebien wrote that this reorganization would replace the three secretaries by creating two administrative secretaries to cover several offices as needed, including, but not limited to, the Mayor's Office, Law Department and Finance Department.
The mayor stated that his plan also called for creating the positions of executive administrative assistant and customer service liaison to replace the positions eliminated in the Mayor's Office. He said these changes would save approximately $125,000 over the next six months and approximately $250,000 annually thereafter.
Grebien said that the second part of his plan would establish a salary range for non-union employee positions, instead of a single defined salary figure as specified in the current ordinance.
The range would begin at 10 percent below what each salary figure paid now, with all new employees to begin at the bottom of the range. (Current employees would continue to receive their specified salaries.)
The mayor stated that the non-union employees subject to the new salary ranges would be evaluated for salary increases based on a set of performance measures. He said the purpose of these measures is to “foster a sense of ownership, responsibility and accomplishment” and the employees who meet these criteria will be rewarded for their efforts “within the context of responsible budgeting.”
On Wednesday, the City Council gave first passage to a new pay range for city department heads as follows: Director of Finance--$72,396 to $84,463 (was $80,441); Director of Public Works--$67,073 to $78,252 (was $74,526); Director of Planning and Redevelopment--$60,282 to $70,330 (was $66,981); Director of Administration--$62,814 to $73,283 (was $69,794); City Solicitor--$59,621 to $69,558 (was $66,246); City Clerk--$60,685 to $70,799 (was $67,428); Chief of Police--$81,188 to $89,735 (was $85,462); Fire Chief--$72,157 to $84,183 (was $80,175); and Library Director--$60,685 to $70,799 (was $67,428).
However, another ordinance change that provides pay raises for two unclassified, non-union positions that was proposed on Wednesday didn't sit so well with some city councilors.
An executive administrative assistant job that was formerly at an annual salary of approximately $43,000 was bumped up to a starting salary of $53,200 that then ranges to $58,000; and a position formerly called “customer service liaison” that was paid at about $47,000 per year has been changed to a new position called “director of constituent services and communications” and assigned a starting salary of $53,200 with the potential to eventually earn up to $58,800.
The ordinance was given first passage by a 5 to 3 vote, but City Council President David Moran, and Councilors Mark Wildenhain and Lorenzo Tetreault voted in opposition. (Councilor James Chadwick was not present at the time of the vote). The matter will be up for consideration for second and final passage at the Mar. 9 council meeting.
Moran later told the Times that he didn't feel that giving out raises of roughly $7,000 to $10,000 sends “a consistent message” with what the Grebien administration has been trying to do to cut costs. In particular, he said he thinks the restructuring is inconsistent with the mayor's recent efforts to eliminate all stipends for individuals serving on city boards and commissions.
Moran questioned why the salaries for these two positions couldn't have been left alone with the understanding that the individuals filling these roles be given a six-month review and possible salary increase at that time.
Wildenhain told the Times that he shared Moran's feeling that the salaries should have remained intact with the possibility of a raise tied to a six-month performance review. He said that, particularly with the executive administrative assistant's salary, he thinks the change from $43,000 to $53,000 was “too much of a slide up in scale. They should have started at the lower rate and then evaluated accordingly,” he said.
Tetreault was not available for comment, but Wildenhain said that he had also been in agreement that the salaries should have been kept at the previous rate and the individuals reviewed after six months.
When reached for comment, Grebien defended the two salary increases, saying that in both cases, the duties of the positions had been expanded. He added that in his office alone, the restructuring saved almost $45,000, even with the pay raises.
The position of director of constituent services and communications, which is now handled by Douglas Hadden, Grebien's campaign manager and a former Times reporter, involves more public speaking, writing, and media contact than his predecessor, Edward Tetzner, had to do. He also said that Hadden had agreed to not take any health insurance benefits or buy-backs.
Additionally, Grebien said there was no existing job description for this position, and, going forward, the administration wants there to be a minimum requirement of a bachelor's degree and five years of journalism experience.
As to the executive administrative position, Grebien said that this role was changed because an office manager position was eliminated and more managerial responsibilities were added. He said this person will also be expected to have the cross-training to cover for some other secretarial positions as needed.
Grebien noted that this position was originally offered to Nicole Almeida, who is the stepdaughter of Jack Gannon, his current director of administration. Gannon had sought an Ethics Commission ruling on Almeida's taking the job, and a decision from that body is still pending. In the meantime, however, Grebien said that Almeida has since informed the administration that she does not want the City Hall job and has decided to stay in her current position.
Grebien said the executive administrative assistant position will be posted and candidates will be interviewed. As an aside, he said he wanted to dispel rumors that this position was going to Leanne Spooner, wife of School Committee Chairman Raymond Spooner. He said that Spooner, recently laid off from a previous job, had been volunteering at City Hall and was now working there in a temporary position.
In response to Moran's comments about eliminating the stipends for those serving on boards and commissions, Grebien said he thinks it is unfair to compare this to the salaries for full-time municipal employees. He said his administration wants to be able to hire and retain good people “and you get what you pay for.”