In the wake of controversy over early retirement, retention bonuses and discretionary raises paid by and to former Buncombe County Manager Wanda Greene and other highly paid county employees, the city of Asheville wants to reassure residents that its compensation practices are on the up-and-up. (See “Greene nets $500K payday over 6 months”)
At the Oct. 24 meetings of City Council’s Governance Committee and the full elected body, Human Resources Director Peggy Rowe reported on the city’s pay policies. First and foremost, she said, “The city of Asheville has no early retirement incentives. The city of Asheville has no retention bonuses. So I wanted to make that clear that the city does not have those practices.”
Rowe focused specifically on the three employees over which Council has direct authority: city manager, city attorney and city clerk. She said raises for those positions are handled as part of the budget process in the same way they are for general employees. “So you approve your budget, you approve an increase for your three direct employees,” she said.
Any additional adjustments beyond the annual raise for city manager, city attorney and city clerk must be initiated by Council, but Rowe said in recent history there has not been any such extra compensation for those three positions. “That would be initiated by the Council and signed off by the mayor,” she said, adding that no action would be taken by the Human Resources Department unilaterally. “Just so we have that clear.”
Rowe gave a six-year salary report for the three positions under the purview of Council. City Manager Gary Jackson has received increases every year since 2013, taking his current annual salary to $195,214. City Attorney Robin Currin came on board in 2014, getting raises every year to a current annual salary of $182,142. City Clerk Maggie Burleson has gotten pay bumps every year since 2013, resulting in a current annual salary of $95,099. All three got a 3.5 percent pay increase in 2016 along with other city workers.
“All of this is very transparent, and again, in recent time there have been no increases for any of those three individuals other than the general increase that the rest of the city [staff] was provided,” Rowe said.
Rowe tells Xpress that salary adjustments for city employees are never based on seniority. “While we explore strategies for performance-based pay moving forward, included in the base budget for this fiscal year was an across-the-board increase of 2.5 percent for all employees,” she says. That increase was implemented during the pay period beginning on July 1 and was not based on seniority or merit.
Rowe told Council the city does have a policy for quality-of-service awards, for which none of those three direct-report employees or department directors are eligible. These awards go to employees for specific “extraordinary events” in relation to handling projects or for finding efficiencies and cost savings, she said.
“There are some incentives provided for specific certifications, second-language proficiency, hazard supplement, etc., where having such skill is advantageous to the city’s ability to best serve its citizens,” Rowe states in an email to Xpress.
Rowe tells Xpress that in the last fiscal year, the city paid $99,993 in quality-of-service awards to employees. “There is a defined approval process that provides checks and balances prior to these awards being issued,” she adds. Any such award in an amount over $250 requires approval from the department director, HR director and the city manager. The city currently employs 1,144 full-time, 35 part-time and 616 temporary seasonal workers along with 12 interns and seven Council members.
“These practices that I just went through with you have been in existence for a long, long time,” Rowe told City Council. “These are not new policies or practices — they have been in existence for many, many years.”
On the matter of nepotism, Rowe said the city’s February 2016 policy superseded previous nepotism rules. It states that there will be no direct reporting relationship between immediate family members or significant others. It requires that employees notify HR and the department director if they have another relative working in the city or if they become a relative with someone after they’re employed. “We do have a policy, it is pretty clearly articulated, and we do make sure that employees advise us when they enter into any kind of relationships with any other employees,” Rowe said at the Council meeting.