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.