Washtenaw County commissioners criticized for approving raises for top administrators
The Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners approved raises for a handful of county employees Wednesday night, while considering a reduction in their own wages.
The board voted 10-1 to approve a controversial restructuring of the county's administration and support services, which immediately drew criticisms from union officials at the meeting.
The plan includes pay raises for a select few, just months after labor unions representing county employees agreed to millions in concessions to help balance the budget.
AFSCME Local 2733 President Caryette Fenner, who heads up the county's largest bargaining unit with more than 600 members, predicted Wednesday's vote is going to make it tough for the county to wrest concessions from her union in the next budget cycle.
"I can say that I don't see any of our members being willing to give any concessions or anything next time," Fenner said after the meeting.
The approved plan includes elimination of 11 full-time positions, creation of nine new positions, reclassification of seven positions, and holding two positions vacant — for a net reduction of four jobs and $326,422 in general fund savings.
Employees whose jobs are reclassified will see a 4 percent pay raise, which will apply to both union and non-union employees. Anytime a position is reclassified, it's county policy that the employee receives a step up in their pay grade, officials said.
Commissioners are going along with McDaniel's recommendation to appoint four top county officials to a new Cross Lateral Team. They, too, will get 4 percent raises.
That includes Finance Director Kelly Belknap, Infrastructure Management Director Gregory Dill, Corporation Counsel Curtis Hedger and Human Resources Director Diane Heidt.
Instead of hiring a new deputy county administrator — a position that's been vacant since last June when Bill Reynolds resigned — the four team members will assume new duties. Even with the raises, McDaniel has pointed out it's still a savings for the county.
Each team member will have his or her maximum salary capped at $126,099. Heidt already is at that limit, so she won't receive a raise. But for the other three — Belknap, Dill and Hedger — a 4 percent raise will boost their pay to $121,437.
Commissioner Dan Smith, R-Northfield Township, brought forward the proposal to reduce pay to county commissioners in calendar years 2013 and 2014. It wasn't discussed, but Smith offered a general overview and said it could come back for a vote in another month.
"It makes our pension a match instead of a contribution," he said. "You may recall we asked many of our employees to contribute toward their pension, so this has the board of commissioners doing the same thing, contributing toward their pension."
Smith also proposes doing away with each commissioner's $3,550 "flex account," which they currently can use for travel, per diems and mileage reimbursements.
He instead proposes each commissioner get up to $2,813 in"optional remuneration," which includes an $813 pension match, $1,000 for education and training and $1,000 in stipends — instead of per diems of $25 per meeting — for special appointments.
"One of the goals there is to simplify the per diem paperwork," he said. "You would only have to do the paperwork once a year."
Overall, Smith's proposal would reduce each commissioner's overall potential compensation from $20,213 to $19,063, a savings of $1,150 per commissioner.
Considering the county board is shrinking from 11 to 9 commissioners starting in 2013, the total potential compensation shrinks from $222,338 to $171,563 under Smith's plan.
While there wasn't any discussion on Smith's proposal Wednesday, there was some debate about the raises being given out to county employees.
Commissioner Wesley Prater, D-York Township, said he'd like the board to review and possibly reconsider the policy that dictates 4 percent raises when jobs are reclassified. He said it's hard to see some employees rewarded while others make sacrifices and the budget is tight.
"It really seems like we ought to chew on it a little bit," he said. "We're asking employees to take major reductions. You know, they're taking 10 days off in furlough time."
Commissioner Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor, said it's important to remember everybody in county government made sacrifices and took concessions in the last round of budget cuts and the 4 percent raises are required under the county's current policies.
"We don't want to confuse it and say the people who are getting the by-policy pay increases didn't take concessions," he said. "They took concessions, too."
Rabhi said he did a few quick calculations and noticed while most of the people are getting 4 percent raises, some are getting even more. He said one union employee is getting almost an 8 percent raise and another union employee is getting almost a 6 percent raise.
"How come you didn't reclassify all the people who are doing two or three people's jobs because their colleagues are gone?" he said. "You have departments after departments that their colleagues have not been replaced."
He expressed concerns the county's policies favor employees at the top and don't give fair consideration to lower-income employees.
Board Chairman Conan Smith, D-Ann Arbor, agreed with Peterson and said that's a big challenge the county faces going forward.
"The board is just beginning to grapple with the imbalance in equity between our lower-paid staff and our higher-paid staff," he said.
"It's really important that we apply the policies we have fairly across the board, so we've done that with this current restructuring," he added. "But I think the board is probably going to take some time and work with the administrator to look at that equity challenge that we have with low-paid and high-paid employees."
He said the biggest area where the imbalance manifests is in health care. Many county employees — both union and nonunion — are now paying $900 a year for health care after the last round of labor negotiations, whereas they weren't paying anything before.
"If you're paying $900 a year into your health care that you weren't paying last year, that has a bigger impact on your personal budget if you're at the low end of the pay scale," he said.
The chairman said that's an entirely separate issue from the salary compensation issue, but it's an important issue nonetheless, and one he thinks the board will grapple with.
Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at email@example.com or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to AnnArbor.com's email newsletters.
Sat, Mar 10, 2012 : 2:52 p.m.
Sandy Castle, I did check into the issue and I understand what you're talking about now. Across the board -- union and nonunion -- employees who were still within their salary range received a "step increase" or the equivalent for nonunion staff. This is essentially a cost of living adjustment that is negotiated via our labor contracts and approved publicly as part of the board budget process. Again, we mimic the benefits structure of the labor contracts for our nonunion staff for equity purposes, so yes, a wide range of staff did indeed see a salary bump (while simultaneously taking the banked-leave day cuts -- essentially maintaining the status quo for those staff). The labor contracts negotiated this year eliminate the step-increase, so similarly non-union staff will not see this benefit in the future. Please understand that this is a uniformly applied policy and no group is being segregated for special benefits.
Fri, Mar 9, 2012 : 4:18 a.m.
"The board is just beginning to grapple with the imbalance in equity between our lower-paid staff and our higher-paid staff," he said. That's odd, because the lowest paid workers have been "grappling" with this issue for some time now.
Thu, Mar 8, 2012 : 9:25 p.m.
"Smith also proposes doing away with each commissioner's $3,550 flex account, which they currently can use for travel, per diems and mileage reimbursements. He instead proposes each commissioner get up to $2,813 in optional remuneration...." So how much did the board of commissioners use of their flex accounts last year? Former commissioner Junket: $2966 Commissioner Prater: $2496 Commissioner Conan Smith: $1667 Others (average): $676 How can you even try to spin this as a cost savings? Now they don't have to show receipts to collect the money. Conan Smith, pay back what you owe FIRST, then we can talk about trusting you with more of our money.
Fri, Mar 9, 2012 : 2:29 a.m.
Karen, Karen, Karen, ...
Thu, Mar 8, 2012 : 7:25 p.m.
How is this a rational policy? "Anytime a position is reclassified, it's county policy that the employee receives a step up in their pay grade, officials said." No need to benchmark pay or do any hard management work with this policy.
Do not vote for Conan!
Thu, Mar 8, 2012 : 7:01 p.m.
Let me tell you Conan does NOT want to know what is going on. He is so out of the loop I would be embarassed.
Do not vote for Conan!
Thu, Mar 8, 2012 : 7:06 p.m.
Wait, I think it might be that he is far up the administrations you know what, that he cannnot see.
Thu, Mar 8, 2012 : 6:51 p.m.
Am I the only one wondering why the County Commissioners get a pension?
Thu, Mar 8, 2012 : 6:06 p.m.
"To the County Commissioners: Please stop flushing our tax money down the SPARK toilet." Maybe SPARK board member Conan Smith would care to address why taxpayers can fund SPARK but their financial records are unavailable to the public? Or why they lack measurable performance standards for what we are getting for our money?
Fri, Mar 9, 2012 : 7:14 a.m.
The boards who monitor SPARK are aware of this and the information you mentioned will be forthcoming.
Thu, Mar 8, 2012 : 5:47 p.m.
I hope all county residents remember this at election time; Especially if Conan Smith's county bus millage is on the ballot! These people are completely out of touch with the current economic state.
Thu, Mar 8, 2012 : 5:06 p.m.
shouldn't this article be found in the "Crime" section?
Thu, Mar 8, 2012 : 5:48 p.m.
Roger that !!
Thu, Mar 8, 2012 : 4:28 p.m.
To the County Commissioners: Please stop flushing our tax money down the SPARK toilet.
Thu, Mar 8, 2012 : 4:08 p.m.
I was really keeping an open mind when reading this until I read this from Commissioner Ronnie Peterson "He said the biggest area where the imbalance manifests is in health care. Many county employees — both union and nonunion — are now paying $900 a year for health care after the last round of labor negotiations, whereas they weren't paying anything before." Wow -- you have to pay for health care like the rest of us? $900 a year which breaks down to $75 a month and more than likely $38 a pay period which is deducted from your taxable salary You make it sound like this is a HUGE burden when the rest of the world likely pays more for less and have been for years and you have had it free forever. get a clue
Thu, Mar 8, 2012 : 3:46 p.m.
And yes the non-union employees did take a paycut via the unpaid days off. However, If they are not topped out in their pay scale they are all receiving 4% raises or raises up to to the top of their pay scale. Better check with Verna, Conan. It's common knowledge to all count employees.
Thu, Mar 8, 2012 : 3:14 p.m.
I wished I voted in Commissioner Peterson's District. Instead I'm stuck with Commissioner Rabhi a replacement for Barbara Bergman. Commissioner, don't think we voters have a short memory.
Thu, Mar 8, 2012 : 2:34 p.m.
Conan, you are wrong. All non-union employees ARE being given up to 4% raises.
Thu, Mar 8, 2012 : 1:34 p.m.
Thank you Commissioner Peterson. I am appalled and ashamed that the rest of our elected officials would approve of these kinds of increases when everyone else in the County has taken cuts, made consessions and are bearing the burden of doing more work with less staff. I am not disagreeing that 3 of the 4 indivdiuals named don't deserve the increase, but then again, there are hundres of other County employees that deserve the same consideration. Ms.Fenner said it best, the County had better take notice that future requests for consessions are not going to be met with anything but contempt. Shame on you Ms McDaniels for putting this before the Board to begin with.
Thu, Mar 8, 2012 : 2:09 p.m.
Always liked and respected Commissioner Peterson. I just wish integrity was contagious.
Thu, Mar 8, 2012 : 1:30 p.m.
It is important to recognize that the policy in place around compensation for restructured position applies to every employee in the County. It is a union-negotiated policy and tied into our labor contracts. It is applied to the non-union staff without their input. The key distinction with positions that are reclassified and subject to a salary bump is the answer to this question: "Are you being asked to do your boss's job?" If so, you're probably eligible for a reclasssification and a pay raise. If you're doing more of the same essential work -- as virtually everybody is in this economy -- your job description hasn't changed (although your workload may have) and our policy says that doesn't warrant a salary increase. Sandy, your information is not accurate. The entire workforce -- union and nonunion -- took pay cuts equal to about 4% in the form of banked leave days and everyone is paying into their benefits package this year. Some labor units did negotiate small across-board-increases to compensation for their members in exchange for other concessions, but overall the picture is a leaner and worse-compensated workforce regardless of your labor status.
Fri, Mar 9, 2012 : 9:08 a.m.
So, your argument is that a union-negotiated policy is the justification for giving top administration raises? You say the policy extends to non-union when there's a restructuring. You say raises are justiified when taking on your "boss' duties". That doesn't make sense here when all you are talking about is consolidating and reallocating responsibilities among the bosses. Your policy as it applies to non-union executives is discretionary--it is within the power of the Commission to refuse to apply the policy. Instead, this Commission uses arcane policy to invoke another Pontius Pilate moment in politics. Well, it doesn't wash. When you strip away the bloviation and apply results-based analysis, this Commission chose to reward top adminstrators with substantial pay increases even after demanding and receiving concessions and pay reductions from rank and file. It's that simple and no amount of hiding behind arcane policies will erase that. Further, your policy, as you apply it, creates a perverse incentive for executives to exploit for garnering raises when they are not politically viable. That is the perception and appearance here. I have little doubt county execs are fine people. But so are your rank and file. Whether you think the execs deserve the raise or not, the actions of the Commission is poor oversight both from public stewardship and from future planning positions. In these times of virtual Depression, we expect shared sacrifice from EVERYONE. And, this jeopardizes future collective bargaining. You already heard the comments from the union representative--you can expect acrimony and polarity in future contract negotiations. This was a poor move and poor public service. I don't use the word leader or leadership because politicians are not my leader, they are public servants hired by the process of election to be a steward. I urge you, as a servant, to rethink these raises.
Thu, Mar 8, 2012 : 6:10 p.m.
Explaining that you don't agree with the policy but your going along with it because it's the 'policy' is really a poor excuse. Being the 'Leader', don't ask others to do what you won't do.
Thu, Mar 8, 2012 : 3:08 p.m.
All jobs change. New equipment, new methods, new requirements. Some make the job easier, some more difficult. Maybe it is time to change the policy on giving pay raises when the job is "restructured".
Thu, Mar 8, 2012 : 2:21 p.m.
You know what Conan, it just doesn't matter anymore.
Thu, Mar 8, 2012 : 2:04 p.m.
Conan have you lost your mind? Or do you feel the rest of us have?
Thu, Mar 8, 2012 : 1:40 p.m.
Sorry Commissioner Smith - this still attacks all of the employees in the county that are doing more with less staff and pay but are not getting compensated for it. NO ONE should be getting more pay until the economy turns around . Election year coming up? Hmmmm....
Thu, Mar 8, 2012 : 1:35 p.m.
"Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes? " Groucho Marx
Thu, Mar 8, 2012 : 1:20 p.m.
How many of these "reclassified" workers will be putting in EXTRA hours? If you work day starts at 8 and ends at 5 end of discussion! I don't care if you are mopping the floors and are now asked to clean the windows. Or if you are scheduling the work and now have to schedule for 4 more workers. An hours pay for an hours work. Don't like it? See how long the job is vacant if you quit! I am not blaming the worker here, but the commissioners hand out money like you hand out candy at Halloween!
Thu, Mar 8, 2012 : 1:03 p.m.
All those "how to" training seminars the Board took in Wayne County are really starting to pay off...
Thu, Mar 8, 2012 : 12:54 p.m.
TLBeadle is correct. These are NOT the only raises being given out. EVERY non-union county employee is being given up to a 4% raise!!!!!! These are employees NOT connected to this restructuring. You only have to contact employees at the county to confirm this is true. It's happening in all departments!!! The union negotiated 8 million dollars in paycuts to do their share toward reducing the county's budget problem and YOUR county administration and county board are SQUANDERING those savings!!!! The fact that annarbor.com isn't looking into this, and Conan Smith, on my previous posts, has denied this cause me to wonder if there is some kind of cover-up going on, or if the board doesn't know what's going on in the administration! Frankly, believing in conspiracies isn't my style. But REALLY??? This isn't rocket science and this is common knowledge, yet there is no reporting on this???
Fri, Mar 9, 2012 : 11:51 a.m.
And I believe in some cases it was actually 6%!
Thu, Mar 8, 2012 : 12:35 p.m.
These are the only raises approved. While direct service staff and middle management have taken A CUT in pay and benefits (while at the same time asked to do more), many county administrators have received raises for doing the same amount of work.
Do not vote for Conan!
Thu, Mar 8, 2012 : 7 p.m.
TLBeadle is correct the county wants to hide all the raises they have given. I have known of one person asking for the records and they were denied. I just want to say my morale has hit the all time low.
Thu, Mar 8, 2012 : 12:36 p.m.
I meant to say....'these are NOT the only raises approved."
Thu, Mar 8, 2012 : 12:13 p.m.
"Employees whose jobs are reclassified will see a 4 percent pay raise, which will apply to both union and non-union employees. Anytime a position is reclassified, it's county policy that the employee receives a step up in their pay grade, officials said." Now just why is the step up a mandatory policy? The article just tosses that out without any explanation. Seems to me that's a loophole for justifying a raise backdoor. That invites restructuring every few years so that a few can get raises after demanding concessions from the hoi polloi. Any increase in pay grade should be justified by articulable facts and data that the Commission must vote on specifically regardless of whether it is the result of a restructuring. The way it is now lets the Commissioners off the hook by saying they never approved a pay "raise" only a restructuring.
Thu, Mar 8, 2012 : 12:05 p.m.
It's classic dysfunction . . . The top get fatter . . . The structure below gets weaker . . . The entire public-service mission collapses. . . There are few workers to actually perform work. . . Pie-in-the-sky pet projects remain and grow. . . New taxes are sought in the midst of service decline. Hey, it sounds exactly like the blueprint provided by the City of Ann Arbor!
Thu, Mar 8, 2012 : 11:52 a.m.
"Commissioner Ronnie Peterson, D-Ypsilanti, was the only commissioner to vote against the restructuring plan that included raises. He said he'd feel more comfortable if the county was giving a bump in salary to everybody who's been asked to do more work. "How come you didn't reclassify all the people who are doing two or three people's jobs because their colleagues are gone?" he said. "You have departments after departments that their colleagues have not been replaced." ' Mr Peterson, thank you. That is exactly what is happening.....low paid workers getting cut and the others taking on that work along with their own. But when a higher paid (read Non-union) worker gets reclassed or takes on any new responsibility, they deserve a pay increase. Don't think taxpayer aren't noticing the inequity, board members. Stop taking care of your top "1%". We will be watching.
Stephen Lange Ranzini
Thu, Mar 8, 2012 : 11:34 a.m.
"The Preliminary Financial State of the County has revealed a projected deficit of $12.9 million for 2012 and $20.9 million for 2013. Projections include cost escalations for expenditures to accurately represent the reality the county will face if no further budget modifications are made." see <a href="http://www.ewashtenaw.org/government/administrator/budget/2012-2013-budget-process/the-countys-financial-situation-1" rel='nofollow'>www.ewashtenaw.org/government/administrator/budget/2012-2013-budget-process/the-countys-financial-situation-1</a> "Commissioner Yousef Rabhi said he did a few quick calculations and noticed while most of the people are getting 4 percent raises, some are getting even more. He said one union employee is getting almost an 8 percent raise and another union employee is getting almost a 6 percent raise." "Commissioner Ronnie Peterson, D-Ypsilanti, was the only commissioner to vote against the restructuring plan that included raises." Why are they handing out raises when they are facing such a large deficit? When you are in a big hole, the first thing to do is to stop digging!
Thu, Mar 8, 2012 : 11:23 a.m.
Has Conan Smith paid back the money he owes the County taxpayers yet? What about other Commission officials?