PORTSMOUTH — Portsmouth City Council revisited the potential wage increase for a city employee Monday, discussions of which were particularly troubling to City Solicitor John Haas. The beneficiary of the raise would be Community Development Director Tracy Shearer, a non-union department head, who could see an increase of upward of 20%.
This follows after other non-union department heads- City Clerk Diana Ratliff and City Auditor Trent Williams- also saw their wages amended from $35,413 to $41,334 and $63,866 to $74,588 respectively last December, included among raises for members of the Fraternal Order of Police, International Association of firefighters, and City Manager Sam Sutherland.
Seeing the frustration in the city building, Haas believes it would be inappropriate for any worker to have a raise of that magnitude while many go without raises.
“I think it’s very unfair to the rest of the non-union supervisors, employees that you are singling out three that will be getting big raises and no one else does,” he said during the March 22 City Managers session.
Council previously took a vote of no action regarding the raise, where Shearer said a raise was justified due to her increased workload of building the Human Rights Commission. With a 20% increase, her annual salary would go from just under $50,000 to nearly $60,000.
Her raise would be greater than the city clerk’s and auditor’s, whose amended salaries were 16.7% higher, and the 2.75% wage increase other non-union employees received after the council moved to pass the three-readings rule Dec. 28.
During a Feb. 8 session, the council voiced their support for the director in securing grants for the Dog and Skate parks. The issue that Mayor Kevin Johnson took, who made the original push to table the conference agenda item, came down to the uncertainty of that workload.
“I’m not really in favor of doing raises on things that might happen,” he is quoted in a Feb. 15 PortsmouthDailyTimesarticle. Johnson also noted how the Fair Housing Board, its three members set to work on the HRC, have never had a formal meeting in its three of four years in operation.
The idea of raises, in general, was problematic to Haas, where he says low pay has kept many from starting retirement. Blamed on budget shortfalls, non-union department heads like Shearer have been making less than their employees since overtime is not allowed.
“I think that people that have been doing their jobs have been underpaid for a long time,” he added. “Whether they have new duties or not, it doesn’t matter.”
1st Ward Councilman Sean Dunne reminded Haas that he himself asked for a “significant increase” in 2019. Haas countered by saying he asked for raises for his team- assistant prosecutors, legal secretary and investigator- to be the paid the average for the positions in the state for cities of similar size and only did so since he would be ineligible for a raise after that year’s election.
In exact terms, the solicitor called the councilman’s understanding to be “absolutely false” when Dunne said no issue was brought up of raise discrepancies when Haas asked for his raise of $20,000. Tensions were fairly high at this point, Johnson having to act as a mediator between the two.
Responding later this week via email, the solicitor said assistant prosecutors would not have received a raise to the average since it would have been too substantial of a raise in one move. Ultimately rejected by the council, Haas said that small increases for cost of living expenses were still approved through 2023 for his position only.
Later in the same message, he added that the council’s moves in granting raises were akin to favoritism, a “slap in the face when raises are granted in a seemingly willy-nilly manner to some but not others similarly situated. “
“I made it clear at the last Council meeting that I do not argue those lucky enough to have seen large increases are not deserving,” Haas wrote, these raises not having any personal impact since his salary is set until Dec. 31, 2023. “I merely felt it necessary to point out what it looks like from the perspective of those who have been overlooked for at least two decades when they are overlooked again.”
Reach Patrick Keck (740)-353-3101 ext. 1931, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @pkeckreporter.
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