Wondering which planet they’re from

Published 10:27 pm Monday, September 24, 2012

By Chris Dove

Four items in this year’s budget have caused me to question whether City Council members are from Earth, let alone in Suffolk.

I was at the City Council meeting when the city manger described how Suffolk was going through hard times. She said there were not enough dollars for such worthy programs as rescue squads and underprivileged children’s art programs.

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I sat there expecting at any moment one of our Council members to ask the obvious question, “So why are you asking for a 21-percent salary increase?” But the Mayor and other council members just sat there and smiled at her contradiction.

Suffolk would have to fire teaching assistants and cut funds to valuable social services, but had enough money to propose a 21-percent increase for the city manager who was already the highest paid per capita in Tidewater.

Suffolk’s personnel manager is an internationally recognized compensation expert. He told those present in council chambers that he was a nationally certified HR professional and that he has taught compensation at major universities. I was very impressed, but I thought he seemed a little overqualified to head an HR department for a city with only 1,300 employees. Why was he working here in Suffolk? But the real question was this: If he was so qualified, why did the city pay someone else to do a compensation study?

Then there was the study itself. Cities such as Alexandria and Chesterfield were used to justify huge salary increases for the city manager and her senior staff. Was Suffolk really competing with these cities for employees? Alexandria has a population of 140,000 and a median household income of $81,000. Chesterfield has a population of 316,000 and a median household income of $71,000. Did that sound even close to Suffolk’s 85,000 citizens, whose median household income is $65,000?

The average city manager’s salary for the cities in Tidewater is $0.97 per capita. Each citizen of Suffolk already paid $1.79 for their City Manager. Was an increase to $2.17 really justified?

Before hundreds of citizens descended on City Council, Councilman Robert Barclay said the pay increases “would be more of a concern if we had to come up with a lot of new money to pay for it. But we’re doing it with existing dollars.”

And vice mayor Charles Brown said of the city manager, “She should have been making this years ago.” It took massive public outrage to prevent our leaders from rubber-stamping the plan.

Finally there is the adopted budget. How many of you know that the adopted 2012-2013 budget included funding for the City Manager’s salary increase. The approved $668,050 is the same amount as in the City Manager’s original proposal. Why budget a salary increase if you are not going to give it, or are they?

Do Mayor Johnson and the other council members understand Suffolk is not a major metropolitan city? How do they rationalize salaries three times the local average? Does a small city in Virginia really require an internationally certified HR director? Do they really believe Suffolk cannot find some qualified city manager who will work for $100,000 in this economy?

What planet do you think they are from?

Chris Dove is a Suffolk resident.