TALLADEGA -- Under the auspices of helping the Talladega Police Department, former Councilman Joe Ballow launched a verbal shot last week at City Manager Patrick Bryant, accusing him of not responding to police issues and criticizing his recently increased salary.
Ballow, who lost his 2015 re-election bid for Ward 5, spoke at the most recent council meeting, claiming the Police Department is 14 officers short, that morale at the department is low and that officers are underpaid and disgruntled.
While calling Ballow’s numbers inaccurate, Bryant did acknowledge that the city has lost some officers, either through resignations or from firings.
A fully staffed Talladega Police Department would have 46 officers, and, even though all the positions aren’t filled, Bryant said the city, for the first time in years, has set aside funding for all those positions. The problem is finding qualified candidates.
Recruiting new officers, he said, is difficult because Talladega has a lower compensation package than all but one other city in the region; the low pay produces a small pool of candidates who are often unqualified; and because the civil service process makes hiring slower than desired.
But, the city has hired an Auburn firm to conduct an independent study that will assess, not just the Police Department, but all city positions and salaries to make sure salaries are not only competitive with surrounding cities, but that salaries are based on merit, not longevity.
The study is about five months into an 11-month process, Bryant said, adding that, regardless, he’s not personally responsible for making salary changes.
“I can’t make adjustments myself,” he said. “Your anger is misplaced.”
To which, Ballow responded, “Employees have so many years before they get a raise, but they broke your contract to give you a raise.”
It’s not the first time Bryant’s new salary has been criticized.
The council voted 3-2 in October to give the city manager a $31,000 raise -- from $85,000 to $116,000 annually.
Since that time, commenters on social media and letter writers to The Daily Home have questioned the amount and whether Bryant deserves the raise.
This Editorial Board has argued that the raise was warranted, given the job Bryant has already done and the going rate for city managers in towns our size. We continue to stand by that view.
Anything the city can do to adequately compensate our officers is deserved, but it looks like the city is already working to make that happen on a broad scale for all of its employees. The sooner that process is complete, the better.
If Mr. Ballow’s approach was more inquisitive than insulting, the meeting might have been more productive. We hope he didn’t use the police situation simply to take a public political swing at the city manager and his salary.
As for the city manager, in a town our size, a $31,000 raise is going to raise some brows -- deserved or not.
But tough and sometimes even unwarranted criticism comes with the territory when you’re in leadership. And it’s only magnified in a small town.
If you don’t have thick skin, you’d better get some.