A little restraint

Published 10:02 pm Friday, May 22, 2015

As Suffolk prepares to enter its first new month since 2008 under the administrative direction of someone other than former City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn, City Council is being taught some important late lessons about top leadership.

Among the most important of those lessons: Negotiate remuneration well and carefully.

That’s surely what Cuffee-Glenn did in 2009 when she brokered a contract tweak that allowed her to accumulate annual leave at a rate of four days a month, rather than three. More important to the final check written to Cuffee-Glenn upon her departure was the fact that council also agreed not to cap her leave days, meaning that she could accrue unused leave days for an unlimited time and then be reimbursed in full whenever she left Suffolk.

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In this case, the reimbursement for unused time since 2009 amounted to nearly a quarter-million dollars. That, of course, is on top of the pretty good salary (a little more than $180,000 a year), which had further benefited from a controversial raise just a couple of years ago, at a time when teachers and firefighters were being denied extra funds in their paychecks.

The most frustrating part of the whole salary episode for many people was the fact that the city’s top administrator was getting a 14-percent salary increase (City Council had wanted to give her a 21-percent hike), when teachers, in particular, were being told they’d have to hold the line one more year. For many citizens, the argument wasn’t so much about how much money the city manager deserved. Instead, the discussion was about why she shouldn’t be asked to sacrifice right along with the rank-and-file.

A similar complaint holds for the situation with accrual of leave time. Suffolk has a policy that provides one to two days a month of leave time for employees, depending upon their time of service. That policy also caps accrued leave time at something between 24 and 48 days, again depending on service.

Surely the city manager deserves to have been paid more than her employees. But it’s hard to make a coherent argument for her to have been given a different set of benefits policies than the people she led. She might have been more valuable than the average employee — hence the higher salary — but does the city really benefit from advancing the concept that the city manager is “better” than the people she manages?

Having quite literally paid the price now for being outmaneuvered at the negotiating table in 2009, perhaps this council will show a bit more restraint when seeking to compensate its next chief administrator.