February 6, 2016

Council member responds to merit increase editorial

Kristina Harrison
Gardner City Council President
Merit increases for public staff should not be mysterious. I agree and thank goodness for the city of Gardner they were not; unless they are considered mysterious to some because each individual city employee’s performance review and rating is protected legally and therefore this information has remained confidential. That aside, I am not sure what is so mysterious about the 2014 public and recorded budget discussions last year in funding was set aside for merit increases to high performing employees. These budget meetings were then followed by a public and recorded meeting — with documentation published as well — in which changes to the personnel policy were discussed. These were not general changes. These were very specific changes that outlined the ratings and criteria that would be utilized for merit increase consideration. I think that most of us would agree that we may have differences in opinions as to merit, performance reviews, and the methods utilized for each. Those differences, perspectives and suggestions for alternatives should be discussed – but disagreeing with the “how” does not equal a lack of transparency in the process.
Data for city employees pay, by position, was compared in January 2013 and June 2014. Based on this comparison, an opinion was drawn that some employees received double-digit merit increases. The article failed to mention that mid-2013, in a public and recorded meeting there was an updated salary ordinance passed with documentation published on the city website as well. This updated ordinance reclassified some positions to different categories, in some cases, resulting in a pay adjustment. So the double-digit increases seen when comparing January 2013 pay to June 2014, was not simply due to merit. The most merit increase an employee received was 4 percent, if they met the established criteria. There was no subjectivity in the merit increase. If you met the threshold that was supported by the budget, you received an increase. Now there is and always will be subjectivity in individual performance reviews that are used for merit. Most people who have a job work for someone, and in most cases, that someone analyzes their performance. There are goals, objectives, and criteria established so employees know what they should focus on, but at the end of the day, whether we like it or not, a real-life human being is assessing performance related to the criteria. In order to try to ensure as best as possible that there was consistency there was a small group of people who reviewed evaluations to try to ensure a consistent approach and measurements. There is also a process for employees to dispute their review and ask for a meeting to discuss with a panel. No one did this in 2014.
To ensure that I cover each question in the editorial, “Merit or mystery: Pay increases shrouded in secrecy,” I am going to list them with my response:
• Who evaluates department heads?
Department heads are evaluated by their boss which is the City Administrator. The City Administrator is evaluated by council and the Mayor.
• Why are directors and administrative services managers included in the merit increase? When based on percentages, the lion’s share of the merit pool goes to higher paid employees; give rank and file employees a better opportunity.
This is a good point and can be looked at as a potential improvement to the process.
• Although city staff exercised its right not to provide a list of “stellar” employees to the public, are city council and mayor made aware of who and how the money was dispersed? Who has oversight?
Was the Mayor or any council members asked before publishing this question if they were aware and had any oversight? It seems like a simple email or phone call could have easily provided answers to this question. Since at least in my case, I was not asked; I will state that yes I am aware. I had questions about the process and did not want to jump to my own conclusions. I sat down with the City Administrator, Finance Director, and Administrative Services Manager and walked through the process for the evaluations as well as the checks and balances put in place. I also walked through the cut-off that was established to receive merit and why the cut-off was established at a certain rating. I am aware of the individuals that were impacted and those who were not.
• Should there be a cap on the amount of merit increase?
There is a cap. No one received more than 4 percent as stated above.
• Why did some employees pay apparently increase by about 10 percent?
They either received a salary adjustment last year or were working out of class as stated above.
• Is this why the city no longer publishes salary ordinances?
The city does publish the salaries as part of the budget which is passed by ordinance.
I agree that the city employees are great and work hard at their jobs. They are so great that I do not believe in jumping to conclusions without presenting any facts regarding their pay and how they are rewarded.
As I stated earlier, there are many approaches to performance evaluations, ratings and merit increases. The conversations regarding how these are done, the best way to reward city employees and utilize taxpayer dollars are valid discussions. Utilizing false innuendos about the current process and de-valuing the validity of those employees who did receive a merit increase is not productive.


  1. Judith Rogers says:

    City Mgr. Harrison-Lee has signed a contract with Mercer effective July 15, 2014 who will provide an executive search for a new police chief. The cost will be $16,500 plus expenses not to exceed $8,000. Any citizen may request a copy of this contract. I wonder where these expenses are in the budget.

    Here is what the City advised me when I asked what was spent to recruit Chief Cullumber which I find hard to believe since I believe they know what they paid an outside agency:

    “Advertising costs for the last recruitment totaled $891.50. No records exist for the extensive staff time and outside agency support allocated to the recruitment of this position.”

  2. Judith Rogers says:

    Here is some info I found about Mercer online. It looks like our City Mgr., Council and Mayor are utilizing their services in more than one way but they certainly are in business for the wealth and well being of EMPLOYEES it appears to me. I do not feel Mercer nor our Council, Mayor and City Mgr. are taking into consideration that Gardner is just a small town of 20,000 citizens and many of those citizens have an income so low that their children are eligible to free school lunches. It appears to me City Hall, once again, has handed over many of our human resources issues to a big time outfit whose existence is to make MONEY and I doubt very much if they or our local politicians and bureaucrats truly are around for the best interests of Gardner citizens. Every citizen can make up their own minds with respect to whether they are being used and abused and then make a statement at election time. For right now I would say City employees have the best union results they could ever ask for – the other side of that issue is whether the citizens can afford or want to pay those better than union results.



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  3. Judith Rogers says:

    I have often provided information about the corruption in Bell, Ca. which I believe was brought about because of citizen apathy and the citizens not providing the needed oversight. Here is an article printed today to tell you how that small town is still reeling when the corruption was brought out in 2010. Citizen apathy is NOT a good thing.


    Bell ex-mayor, convicted in scandal, filled with ‘shame’ and ‘remorse’

    Former Bell mayor says he’s filled with shame and remorse for his role in corruption

    Former Bell Mayor George Cole, sentenced Wednesday to home confinement for his role in the small city’s corruption case, said after the verdict that is filled with shame and remorse for the scandal.

    A onetime steelworker and the son of a Presbyterian minister, Cole was ordered to sentenced to 180 days of home confinement and five years of probation. He was also ordered to perform 1,000 hours of community service and pay back $77,000 to the working-class city that was pushed to the edge of bankruptcy by fiscal wrongdoing.
    His legacy really has been tarnished, and this is what he probably will be remembered for. – Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy

    “There’s no way to express the shame, the remorse,” Cole told Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy, who has presided over the Bell trials.

    Cole had built a reputation as a community leader who embraced Bell’s shift from a white, middle class city to a town dominated by immigrants.

    “George Cole is a Latino leader even though he is not Latino,” Supervisor Gloria Molina once said.

    But Kennedy said Cole rewrote his legacy by drawing an oversized salary for serving on boards and commissions that seldom, if ever, met. Four other former council members also were convicted and pleaded no contest to identical charges.

    “Mr. Cole has done a lot of good things for a lot of people,” the judge said. “Unfortunately, his legacy really has been tarnished and this is what he probably will be remembered for.”

    Deputy Dist. Atty. Sean Hassett, who had asked that Cole be sentenced to four years in prison, put it in harsher terms: “He betrayed the people of Bell.”

    Cole, who served as both a mayor and council member in Bell, was one of eight people arrested in 2010 after the enormous salaries and financial irregularities were exposed.

    One of the council members, a preacher in the community, was found not guilty but the others were all convicted.

    Cole is the second to be sentenced. Former Councilman George Mirabel was sentenced this month to one year in county jail, though his attorney predicted he would only serve days behind bars.

    Thus far, Kennedy has reserved her toughest sentences for the administrators who ran Bell. Robert Rizzo, the domineering city manager, and his second-in-command, Angela Spaccia, each was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

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