Councilmen: Surprise pay raise discussion was planned

Published 10:00 pm Thursday, January 17, 2013

A proposal to give Suffolk City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn a 14-percent raise on Wednesday came as a surprise to people who watch council’s agenda for upcoming meeting topics, since it was added to the agenda during the meeting.

But for the council member who proposed it and at least three of the others who voted in the 6-2 majority to increase Cuffee-Glenn’s salary by more than $22,000 per year, the discussion hardly took them by surprise

“We knew it was going to come up the first of the year,” said Councilman Jeffrey Gardy, who voted in favor of the increase. “It’s something we had to face. It was a good night to do it, because there wasn’t a lot on the agenda.”

Adding the item to the agenda at the last minute meant citizens were not aware of it ahead of time. If it had been included with the published agenda, citizens could have registered through Tuesday to speak about the topic before council voted on it.

The pay hike to $178,000 for Cuffee-Glenn was placed on the agenda by Councilman Charles Parr, who made a motion for it to be discussed in closed session and then made the motion in regular session to raise the salary.

The move came after last year’s contentious budget process, when a proposal to increase Cuffee-Glenn’s salary by 21 percent was included in an initial budget proposal. City Council removed the proposal at the time, and the city manager received the same 3-percent increase that other city employees got when the current budget took effect in July.

Parr said the decision to propose the larger raise on Wednesday was his.

“That was me making an adjustment to the agenda,” he said. “I have no qualms about it.”

Councilman Michael Duman, who also voted in favor of the raise, said he knew late last week that the issue would be discussed.

“I was just informed it was going to be brought up,” he said. “I was aware it was going to be discussed.”

Councilman Curtis Milteer, who voted for the raise, suggested he also had known the issue would come up on Wednesday.

“It had been discussed numerous times over a period of time,” he said. “I’m not saying where it was discussed at.”

Mayor Linda T. Johnson said Thursday that Cuffee-Glenn’s base pay had been the lowest in Hampton Roads’ seven cities and referred to a chart provided by the city that showed her base salary as lower than that of similar officials in James City, York and Isle of Wight counties. Her base pay now is higher than that of the administrators in all three counties and also outpaces the Portsmouth city manager’s base pay.

“If you look at those numbers, it’s really not about the person,” Johnson said. “Our position was woefully lower. I think it’s in the right place (now).”

On Thursday, Parr said Cuffee-Glenn has saved the city a substantial amount of money.

“(She’s) saved the city over $50 million in bond financing fees … and we’ve gone from the brink of bankruptcy to almost having a AAA rating,” he said. “I think you should reward people that have gotten you there.”

Parr said he feels all city employees should get cost-of-living pay increases, and he hopes the money will be available this year to implement the second phase of a compensation plan that is addressing below-market pay and salary compression.

“I think everybody deserves an increase if their performance dictates it,” he said. “I find it ironic that we don’t mind paying a football player millions and millions of dollars and he goes out and does something wrong, but someone that saves you millions and millions of dollars, (some think) they shouldn’t get anything.”

Newly elected council members Roger Fawcett and Lue Ward were the only council members to oppose the raise. They both said Wednesday night that they were too new on the council to make a quick decision on such an issue.