Mayor defends leave-time increase

Published 1:11 am Saturday, March 14, 2009

City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn deserves the increase in benefits that City Council gave her last week, says Mayor Linda T. Johnson.

“Our citizens are fortunate to have such a committed and dedicated City Manager at their service 24/7,” Johnson wrote in an e-mail. “We expect her to be available to our public, our staff and our council within a moment’s notice, and she has exceeded this expectation during her tenure.”

At the March 4 City Council meeting, the council voted unanimously to amend the terms of the agreement with the city manager. The change means that Cuffee-Glenn now accrues four days of annual leave per month, and receives a $950 vehicle allowance per month. She previously earned three days of leave per month, and her vehicle allowance was $750 each month.

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Cuffee-Glenn’s leave will roll over indefinitely, according to the agreement. Upon her termination of employment with the city, she will be paid for all her unused leave.

The mayor did not respond to a question about the rate at which the city manager would be paid for her accrued leave time upon leaving employment with the city.

If she were paid based on a 365-day work year, however, her current salary would qualify her for $414.82 a day for each day of accrued leave time. Assuming the city manager took 24 days of vacation in a year — the same amount allowed for someone employed by Suffolk for 20 years — she would bank almost $10,000 a year under the new deal.

Facing criticism for raising Cuffee-Glenn’s benefits during a recession, Johnson explained that she believes the city manager is being compensated fairly. She pointed out that Cuffee-Glenn is the lowest-paid city manager (she makes $151,410 per year) among the seven cities of Hampton Roads, and yet manages what is geographically the largest city in Virginia. Other Hampton Roads city managers earn between $164,800 (Portsmouth) and $219,715 (Virginia Beach) annually.

Johnson added that Cuffee-Glenn is responsible for crafting the entire budget and for overseeing all department operations, employees, capital investments, city building projects and other city business on a daily basis, all while working “no less than 16 hours” on an average day, according to the mayor.

Besides being the lowest-paid manager in Hampton Roads, Cuffee-Glenn does not participate in a deferred compensation plan (a type of retirement plan), Johnson said. Other city managers in Hampton Roads receive as much as $20,500 per year in deferred compensation. Newport News — which had a population of 181,000 as of 2006, and pays its city manager $189,900 — does not offer a deferred compensation plan.

When compared to localities of similar population throughout the state, Cuffee-Glenn’s salary is near the bottom there, as well.

The News-Herald contacted five city managers or county administrators of localities throughout the state that have a population within 15,000 of Suffolk. Of the five – the cities of Lynchburg and Roanoke, and the counties of Frederick, Rockingham and Augusta — only one, Rockingham County Administrator Joseph Paxton, makes less than Cuffee-Glenn. Paxton’s salary is $140,510, a difference from Cuffee-Glenn of $10,900. Rockingham County has a population of about 73,000.

On the high end, the city of Roanoke pays its city manager $173,658 a year.

Deferred compensation for chief administrative officers in those localities runs from $8,000 to $12,000 a year.

Johnson maintains that the increase in benefits is a fair way to compensate Cuffee-Glenn during a recession.

“(She) has been responsive to all City demands, whether a tornado, trash needs, power outages or citizen complaints,” Johnson wrote in the e-mail. “She confronts the issues of a transforming community with professionalism and commitment, regardless of the hour or the day. She is committed to keeping our City safe and providing a wonderful community in which to live, work, and play.”