Bach loses mayor/council showdown

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The salary issue began when Bach announced a wage freeze shortly after taking office, but that freeze apparently never took effect.

During 2011, people continued to get what Bach termed “longevity” increases based on performance and time in the job.

The salary freezes don’t include firefighters or police officers, the city’s “sworn” staff.

Those raises, totaling an additional $750,000, were not targeted by Bach. Nor does it include employees at Memorial Health System or Colorado Springs Utilities, which have their own salary programs as city enterprises.

The civilian increases were built into the 2012 budget, also apparently without Bach’s knowledge. Bach presented the budget to council, and the city has held several public hearings about the budget. But, somehow, the salary increases went unnoticed.

He became aware of the problem last week and moved quickly to fix it, but that’s when he ran afoul of the City Council.

“I know its short notice,” Bach said at Monday’s informal meeting. “It was a surprise to me too. But we need to get this fixed.”

Bach threatened to terminate positions to save the money if Council did not comply.

“The charter gives me the sole authority for layoffs or firings, and I will do that if I have to,” he said. “If I’m put in that position, that’s what I’ll do.”

But council members weren’t inclined to take his threat seriously when it came time to vote on the proposal Tuesday afternoon. Nancy Johnson, from the city’s human resources office, made the proposal in the mayor’s absence.

“I wish the mayor were here,” said Brandy Williams. “I would like him to clarify that he said he would start layoffs if we didn’t pass this. But this money is already in the budget, and it’s less than the contingency fund he asked for. We got the budget and we cut it $300,000 to put in the fund balance, which is just about half of this figure. I don’t understand his reasoning.”

Council member Bernie Herpin said he lost sleep over the issue.

“We hire people, and we explain that if they work hard, train, perform as expected, then they’ll get raises,” he said. “This year, people got raises. Now, at the last minute, we’re going to tell people they won’t get the raises they expected in January.”

City employees are already taking home less money because council has increased their share of health care costs for each of the past two years, he said.

“They haven’t gotten cost of living adjustments either,” Herpin said. “And we have lost hundreds of jobs over the past few years, we’re asking them to do more and more.”

Councilman Tim Leigh didn’t see it that way. He supported the salary freezes.

“It’s not what’s good for the employees; it’s what’s good for the enterprise,” he said. “You have to take sour medicine in the short run to get well in the long run.”

The issue worried Councilwoman Angela Dougan for different reasons.

“I worry that we’ll give someone a raise then have to take it back,” she said, “or have that person lose their job in June.”

Dougan, whose husband is a police officer, said those basic, core services deserve the pay increases — but that the government had to cut somewhere.

“I think we need to see where we are with salaries and know for sure — yes or no — if city employees are overpaid,” she said. “I definitely support this.”

In his pitch Monday afternoon, Bach said he wanted to hold the salary increases in order to conduct the compensation survey to compare Springs’ salaries with other cities the same size.

None of the six members opposing the measure agreed that salaries had to be frozen in order to conduct the compensation survey.

“I wholeheartedly support a compensation survey,” said Scott Hente. “But when I was in the military, if there were pay freezes, people still got raises when they went from 12 years in to 14 years in –on the understanding that that’s a more valuable employee.”

There are other solutions, Herpin said. If the compensation survey finds some city employees are grossly overpaid, then that person’s pay can be frozen until they’ve been with the city long enough to reach the appropriate level.

Bach, of course, wanted the final decision to rest with him.

“I’m asking for you to give the mayor the discretion, case by case, to decide if those longevity raises should occur,” he said Monday.

Not so fast, said Herpin, Williams, Hente, Jan Martin, Val Snider and Lisa Czelatdko, all of whom voted against the mayor’s request.

“I certainly don’t want to go against the mayor,” said Martin. “But the timing of this concerns me. We just got the language for this when we arrived — it was sitting on the dais. And we’ve been in the meetings since then. We haven’t even had 24 hours notice — more like 10 minutes.”

4 Responses to Bach loses mayor/council showdown

  1. I am sorry Council didn’t support the Mayor. Someone has to be the bad guy and at least Bach is willing to do something. My income is less than half what it was a few years back and I am not alone. Being self-employed I don’t qualify for ANY help, unemployment, bailout, etc. So, as much as I’d like to see everyone get raises and increases, the time for that is past until conditions improve for the rest of us economically. We cannot insulate the public sector forever.

    I would bet that if all the City jobs were put out for “reapplication” at 70% of the former pay, the line of applicants (many quite qualified) might stretch for miles! Thousands of people would love these jobs and do quite well. I am not advocating this approach, but surely Mayor Bach’s approach is at least a bit of a start isn’t it? Herpin’s approach mentioned above is ridiculous, to not adjust an overpaid employee’s wages!

    Chuck Armstrong
    December 14, 2011 at 1:55 pm

  2. I believe that this should have been approved and that the mayor should have been given the final say. He needs to be able to do what is right for the community. Yes, it would not have made everyone in the city positions happy, but when you are faced with hard time you have to make hard decisions and I do not feel that only the public sector should have to share in those choices. I work in the private sector as do most of my friends and acquaintances. I know that the majority of businesses have had to freeze salaries at least some of the last 3 or 4 years, and many have had to freeze them most if not all of those years. In fact three years ago I (and everyone I work with) took a 5% cut in pay that was just reinstated earlier this year. Furthermore, I do not expect to receive an increase in the coming year and I can not tell you how long it has been since I saw a “cost of living” increase. I believe that most private sector jobs said goodbye to those 10 plus years ago. These are “tough times” and just because you are (take your pick) a(n) (educator, city employee, state employee, county employee, or federal employee) does not make you exempt from the issues that face the rest of the country.

    I deal with hundreds (literally) of small business owners and hear about and see the decisions they are being forced to make daily just to keep their doors open and the attitude that Mr. Herpin and many of the other council members display here just shows me how out of touch they are with what is really happening in business at this time. Not making this adjustment mandatory while they keep trying to get business to pay more just does not make since and it is the reason that as a nation we are going bankrupt and paralyzed by bureaucracy. Everyone is so afraid of offending a voter that they are not willing to lead us out of this situation. I have met and spoken with many representatives and almost unanimously they agree that we have got to cut programs and services and rethink the way we are doing things to work our way our of the current financial mess we are in. However, in the very next breath (again almost unanimously) they will defend the budgets and spending increases on their “pet projects”. It is human nature to want someone else to bite the bullet and being the bullet biter is never fun, but once you work your way out of a tough spot you are far less likely to find your way back into a similar one!

    Man/Woman up council members! It is in times like these that we need brave new leaders that are willing to stand up and say we can not expect to have new results doing things the same way we always have. To date, God has always provided this country with the “Great Leadership” we need when we need it most. Are you “that kind of leader” in this community? If not, get out of the way so we can find someone that is.

    BTW… I think Mayor Bach is trying to be that kind of leader.

    Kelly
    December 14, 2011 at 2:06 pm

  3. I am so sick and tired of hearing the entitlement stories that city workers should be immune from what the rest of the real world is dealing with. I have been furloughed, had my salary reduced twice and seen health insurance contributions go up every year for the last 10 years. And, I am glad to have a job because there are not an abundance of opportunities available for a career move.

    Mr. Herpin, we also hire people, and we explain that if they work hard, train, perform as expected, then hopefully we will all get raises. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way and that has become the norm. And Ms Martin, I got less notice than you when I had my salary reduced. Yet, I am still glad to be employed and I work harder to make our business successful for hope that it will get better.

    I am proud that we have a mayor that sees the big picture in a realistic sense of what we need to do to protect our future and not dig a hole that we can’t get out of.

    Mike
    December 15, 2011 at 9:53 am

  4. I agree with the Mayor’s position on this issue. Personally I have not had a raise in 5 years and did not get one again this year. In addition my health care premiums continue to rise, which results in a decrease in pay for me, however I am thankful to have a job in this economy. This is a free country, if someone is unhappy with their job for any reason, including their pay or lack of raises, they are free to seek employment elsewhere. I’m sure there are plenty of people who are waiting in line for their job and would happily take it. The bottom line is that the City is a business, yes there are people involved, but at the end of the day we all have to make sacrifices and the City is not immune from the issues that we all face with regard to the economy.

    Jackie
    December 15, 2011 at 10:18 am