Poor timing for leave-time increase

Published 1:07 am Saturday, March 14, 2009

First, a stipulation: Selena Cuffee-Glenn does an admirable job as Suffolk’s city manager. Her professionalism and dedication to the job are without equal. She’s smart, congenial and holds city employees to high professional and personal standards. She may well be the best city manager Suffolk has had in a long time.

That said, there are problems with the City Council’s decision last week to increase her paid leave time from three days per month to four. Chief among those problems is the one of appearances.

With federal, state and city revenues plunging in the face of a recession, Cuffee-Glenn announced this month that she would cut overtime for hourly city employees and hold pay rates for hourly and salaried public servants at their current levels. There were no exceptions made for dedication, the quality or difficulty of the work or the length of service. It was an intelligent and justifiable choice, given the economic climate.

Email newsletter signup

City Council should have followed her lead when it came time to review Cuffee-Glenn’s performance. Doing otherwise sends a message to the rank-and-file — not to mention to taxpayers — that the City Manager somehow deserves better treatment. City taxpayers have complained since the decision that the lesson is that there are two sets of rules in play. The conclusion is understandable, based both on the decision and on the justifications that have been given since that decision was made.

Among those justifications has been a comparison of Cuffee-Glenn’s salary to that of other cities in Hampton Roads. That argument, however, ignores the fact that Suffolk has the smallest population of any city in Hampton Roads. City officials argue, though, that population comparisons are an unfair way of measuring the difference in pay between administrative officers for various localities.

Comparing the city to Chesapeake — another municipality with a large land area and conflicting pressures from urban and rural communities, as well as a population more than two and a half times that of Suffolk — Cuffee-Glenn makes just $18,500 less a year in salary. Chesapeake’s city manager earns leave at a rate of just two days per month, but he also accrues $15,500 a year in deferred compensation, which is roughly analogous to banked leave time. Cuffee-Glenn’s new compensation plan clearly brings her much closer to those of her associates throughout Hampton Roads.

There may be an argument that Cuffee-Glenn’s performance merited a better deal than she was getting prior to last week. However, the same can surely be said for other Suffolk employees. Suffolk City Council should have held off on any increase for its city manager until it could do something more for all of those worthy public servants.