TALLADEGA -- Much of Monday night’s 90-minute-plus Talladega City Council meeting consisted of back-and-forth between Council President Dr. Horace Patterson and Councilman David Street regarding various issues, including criticism of city personnel and a discussion of recent revisions to the salary scale, which Street had characterized as illegal.
Councilman Jarvis Elston occasionally entered the discussion on Patterson’s behalf.
The results of an investigation into city raises that City Manager Beth Cheeks provided to the council Monday explained that GEDI (Government and Economic Development Institute), which is part of Auburn University, was hired to “produce job descriptions, develop a classification plan, a pay study and the development of a pay plan.”
The group was hired in August 2017, and the job descriptions were approved in December. The pay grades and pay scales, based on steps of 3.14 percent, were also approved.
Later, 14 of the descriptions were changed by the council, after being submitted to the Civil Service Board and Employee Committee, “who only have advisory privileges,” according to the report. Of the 14 descriptions that were changed, the report indicated that 11 of the changes were initiated by GEDI.
The total changes in hourly wages for the 14 positions totaled $35.68 per hour, or $74,214.40 per year.
“But actual payroll has not changed anywhere that much,” Cheeks said. “On Aug. 24, 2018, payroll was $195,700. On Oct. 1, there was an overall payroll raise of 3.14 percent. On Aug. 12, 2019, payroll was $215,800.
“Payroll in the last year has only gone up $20,100. City administration knew the fluctuations of payroll and how it would effect the bottom line — payroll costs.”
The report concludes, “Now, as to the issue of ‘illegal raises,’ I have spoken/corresponded with our city attorney and other city attorneys at several conferences, and their response has been ‘there is no such thing as an illegal raise.’ If employees are paid in the pay grade that was set by council for their job description, there is nothing illegal.
“The only illegal act would be to pay an employee more or less than their pay grade in violation of the ordinances. There are no employees paid outside their pay grade.
“You know that no one’s pay is a secret here. If someone was paid wrong, the other employees will quickly bring it to our attention. The City Council has approved and dictates pay grades.”
Street argued that since the employees whose salaries were adjusted had not had their job descriptions changed or been evaluated, then the adjustments were not warranted.
“You’re beating a horse with this,” Elston said. “The term ‘illegal’ is a strong word, and it doesn’t sit well with me, not at all. It is offensive.”
Many of the exchanges during the balance of the meeting involved Patterson saying that criticism of city employees was inappropriate by a council member, and complaints should only be made by constituents to department heads or the manager.
Street had raised a complaint from one of his constituents that two city employees who were supposed to be cleaning out a ditch had been playing football for about half an hour rather than working. Patterson praised the importance of the Community Appearance Department and said that people should not complain about employees working in the heat seeking shade.
Patterson concluded by saying that he “had complaints from business owners about a criticism and interference from a councilman that was inappropriate, and I have the letters to document it. I want people to do business here, and that means we should conduct ourselves in a businesslike manner.”
Street said he had not overstepped any boundaries and would gladly sit down with any business owner any day to resolve their issues.