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Points are right, approach was wrong

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By Jonna Spelbring Priester

It was clear from the beginning of last week’s Pleasureville City Commission meeting that there was tension.
At one point, the “discussion” truly had the feel of a spat between sisters, more than a reasoned and rational commission meeting.

The casual observer easily could have thought that Commissioner Pam Bramblett had a personal bone to pick with City Clerk Verna Stivers. And that had little to do with how much Stivers makes, paying her $350 for insurance, whether or not that’s in accordance with city ordinance, or how Stivers tracks her hours.

The acrimony was clear from the start of the meeting, where the tension ran so tight, that a casual visitor could’ve heard a pin drop, it was so silent before the meeting started.

Bramblett makes some valid points: Stivers should track her time, specifically the number of vacation and sick hours she uses as she uses them. Stivers’ salary is above the cap outlined in the city’s ordinance regarding the pay for the city clerk.

City Attorney Bill Brammell presented the solution to the salary "problem" simply as one of two choices: Either reduce Stivers’ pay to the ordinance levels or amend the ordinance. Bramblett supported reducing Stivers pay to the $25,000 cap, refusing to even consider a change to the ordinance.

Stivers’ salary is set by the city commission, and through little fault of her own, it was raised by a city commission apparently ignorant of the city’s own ordinance.

I’ll grant some room for argument that as the keeper of city records, Stivers should have known at the time that there was a salary cap and what it was.

She said in last week’s meeting that she did not remember the cap until she reread the ordinance recently while researching the insurance pay question.

Regardless, a prior commission saw fit to increase Stivers salary. It was motioned, seconded and voted upon, and I wouldn’t lay blame at Stivers’ feet for that happening. After 25 years of service to the city, I don’t think that $27,168 is too much pay.

Yanking that money away from Stivers would be wrong, effectively reneging on a promise made by a previous council, which felt she deserved a raise.

The solution is simple: adjust the ordinance to encompass Stivers’ current pay and the potential for cost-of-living adjustments in the next five years.

Bramblett made an issue, too, of Stivers not tracking her time or payroll records in general. Stivers and Mayor Rodney Young argue that Stivers does keep payroll records, they’re simply digital. But Stivers agreed that she has not tracked the vacation and sick hours; doing so is not part of the city’s personnel policy.

She should. That’s a basic element of payroll in the private and public sectors.

Again, the solution is simple: Amend the personnel policy to dictate that vacation and sick hours be tracked.

Finally, the insurance question.

Some private sector businesses may reimburse employees who no longer take the company-provided insurance, and that is each business’ prerogative. I’m less inclined to say that a city should do so, though some cities do have a policy that provides a stipend to employees who do not take the offered insurance.

But, if Stivers is on Medicare, the city should not pay the $350 per month she has requested. The $350 represents an amount that one commissioner said Stivers described as “fair.” This is neither money that was ever in Stivers pocket or money that has been taken from Stivers' pocket; according to the commissioner, the city paid Stivers’ entire $600 premium.

That $350 per month adds up to $4,200 per year — a nice raise that would bring Stivers’ salary to more than $31,000.

That is a burden the Pleasureville tax payers are not, and should not be, obligated to carry.

And that is another point Bramblett made that’s spot on — this is not simply the city’s money; it’s taxpayer money. It behooves the city commission to be responsible with that money and its allocation.

Bramblett had good, valid points upon which to base her argument, but her method made the discussion feel more like a personal vendetta, with Bramblett’s sites set squarely on Stivers.

It would have been far easier, and far more appropriate to take a more diplomatic approach and suggest revisiting the applicable ordinances and amending them as necessary. And that is precisely what the city should do.

The rest of the commission should take heed — this is, afterall, taxpayer money. It should be dealt with diligently.

The commission, Young and Stivers are accountable to one another. Most importantly, they are accountable to the city’s taxpayers.