City employee salary info may not be available until after budget vote
For those of you who missed it, Daily News reporter Joanne Beck turned out an excellent piece Saturday on the proposed pay raises for city officials. When Beck questioned city leaders about the raises slated for department heads, despite the down economy, and about the significant increase in pay for the assistant city manager—$24,000 more than past assistants—she was accused of being sexist.
From that article:
Council President Charlie Mallow believes it's a ''sexist'' form of badgering for no good reason.
"It seems we have chosen to disrespect and take for granted those who have come in to clean up the mess others have left us with," Mallow said Thursday. "I also believe there is sexism in this whole line of questioning. There are at least four other men that make more money than (Assistant Manager Sally Kuzon) and I don't see repeated questions about them."
Mallow and City Manager Jason Molino felt the same way, they said: The assistant's salary is justified and the topic is not really news. But it wasn't Kuzon, who has worn many hats to oversee public works, community development and code enforcement, being questioned. Her salary of about $84,000 was. Past assistants have made about $60,000.
The issue of salary increases has been raised on a few occasions. When The Batavian asked about the raises for department heads last month, we were told that it was only fair because all the other city employees were guaranteed raises as a result of union contracts.
Mallow told us in an e-mail at the time:
There is a sense of right and wrong here. I do not believe non-union employees should be punished for not being part of a collective barging unit. Keep in mind that our administrative people have worked hand in hand with council to eliminate close to a $3 million dollar spending deficit in the last two years. The hard work of these administrative people reduced the size of city government. Some people out of sheer ignorance would like to single these people out; I think the rest of the community understands how far we have come and who helped us along the way.
Since then we have been trying to break out the budget info that pertains specifically to employee salaries. Last week, in what ought to be the ultimate effort, we filed a Freedom of Information Law request with the city clerk's office. In it, we requested the salaries for all city employees for the current fiscal year, the proposed salaries for the coming year, and those of the previous year.
On February 13, five days after we filed the request, we were informed that it would require 45 days for the city to compile the information. From Heidi Parker, city clerk: "With regards to the request for salary information, gathering that data could take a significant amount of time and therefore will be available within 45 days. I will forward you the information sooner, if I get it before the 45 days."
If you do the math, that would make the information available on March 30. City Council has until March 31 to approve the budget. Right now, they plan to vote well before that date, likely early in March at the next business meeting, we were told.
The question is simple: How can the city justify pay raises when the economy is so obviously in a funk? In downtown Batavia alone, five business have closed their doors since November, and more are rumored to follow suit. More than just a loss to the business community and downtown shoppers and diners, these closures signify a loss of tax revenue.
It turns out we weren't the only ones who had trouble procuring such information. A councilman and the Daily News also ran into road blocks. Fortunately for the Daily, their FOIL request was approved in time.
Councilman Bob Bialkowski has asked to add salaries to the agenda for council's conference meeting Feb. 23. He wants to discuss the topic of salaries versus personnel, he said.
That won't happen during public session, Mallow said. He feels it is about personnel, which is personal, and it won't be a free-for-all in open session, he said.
Bialkowski had asked to get administrative salary information but was rebuffed by council, he said. He was not aware what the top salaries were until they were published in The Daily News recently, he said. That information, which was obtained by a Freedom of Information Act request, listed the assistant manager's salary at the top with $83,959, followed by the city manager's salary at $83,487. Those salaries are contingent on a proposed 2.85 percent raise in the 2009-10 budget. City Council has until March 31 to adopt a final budget.
"The legislature hereby finds that a free society is maintained when government is responsive and responsible to the public, and when the public is aware of governmental actions. The more open a government is with its citizenry, the greater the understanding and participation of the public in government. As state and local government services increase and public problems become more sophisticated and complex and therefore harder to solve, and with the resultant increase in revenues and expenditures, it is incumbent upon the state and its localities to extend public accountability wherever and whenever feasible. The people's right to know the process of governmental decision-making and to review the documents and statistics leading to determinations is basic to our society. Access to such information should not be thwarted by shrouding it with the cloak of secrecy or confidentiality. The legislature therefore declares that government is the public's business and that the public, individually and collectively and represented by a free press, should have access to the records of government in accordance with the provisions of this article."