Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington and the City Council’s Administration Committee compromised Wednesday on a proposed raise for the mayor’s assistant after Alderman Glen Brown Jr. and others questioned the size of the increase.
The committee agreed to recommend the City Council raise the salary of the current position of assistant to the mayor from $32,637 to $44,336, the top of its salary range. A proposal by Washington would have re-named the position as mayor’s chief of staff and raised it to $55,000.
The committee also approved an unrelated proposal by Brown to ensure that employees who are promoted do not make more than co-workers holding the same position.
The Administration Committee makes recommendations to the Pine Bluff City Council on salary, discipline and other issues involving city employees. It consists of aldermen Lloyd Holcomb, Thelma Walker and Steven Mays.
The assistant to the mayor position is held by Keidra Phillips Burrell, an attorney who said she has had experience working in city administration in New Orleans.
Washington initially proposed raising the salary of the position from $32,637 to $55,000 at the City Council’s Jan. 17 meeting. She said her assistant would need to do more than the current job description for the position, requiring a salary increase to hire and retain the highly qualified person she had in mind. The raise would be funded by leaving positions for a purchasing agent and grant writer unfilled.
But she agreed to take the matter back to the Administration Committee for further discussion after Brown expressed concern about the size of the increase and about setting a precedent for the position. Once raises are given, Brown said, it is difficult to reduce salaries in future mayoral administrations. He also said the council had previously set aside funds for a grant writer, and he did not want to apply those to a raise for another position.
On Wednesday Washington submitted a second proposal to the Administration Committee that would also raise the position’s salary to $55,000 but change the title from assistant to the mayor to chief of staff.
Brown said he did not see how the duties of the position had changed.
“Last time we discussed it I thought we would talk about this a little bit more and not come back with the exact same salary but maybe come to a means in the middle,” Brown said. “I feel like we just kinda, you’re pushing back on us the same exact form, just with a different title on it.”
The existing position of administrative assistant to the mayor pays $32,637 and lists 15 essential duties and responsibilities. They include reviewing and analyzing city documents, including budgets, proposals and departmental reports; representing the mayor in meetings with elected officials and representatives of other public agencies, business, professional and community groups and the media; and conferring with the City Council and city staff at all levels and in all departments as required by assignments.
The position of mayor’s chief of staff submitted Wednesday by Mayor Washington listed 12 essential duties and responsibilities. They included working on behalf of the mayor with the finance department to prepare the city budget; advising and assisting the mayor on delivery of city services; acting as a representative and liaison from the mayor to the media; providing “expert professional assistance and support to the mayor on a wide range of highly complex, sensitive and confidential topics”; and making public appearances and delivering speeches on behalf of the mayor.
Washington said that Burrell has taken on more duties than the traditional assistant to the mayor.
“She’s taking over a lot of the paperwork the mayor normally handles because I’m taking on some new responsibilities of going out, trying to get new revenue into the city, trying to get housing going,” Washington said. “There’ll be so many things that I’ll be researching, investigating and trying to bring in.”
Brown said he sees the jobs as essentially the same, and asked why the city should increase Burrell’s salary if she was already performing the additional tasks. Washington said the job’s responsibilities had been expanded as soon as she took office, but in the process she did not think to change the title.
“The thing is, if you were hired in as the administrative assistant to the mayor, then that’s what you were hired in as,” Brown said. “You can’t come into a position with hopes that it’ll change and hopes that the salary will go up as soon as the title you want.”
“This is a conversation that she and I had had about the chief of staff from the very beginning,” Washington said. “We talked about the salary from the very beginning. It’s just that I didn’t know how salaries worked with the city, just to be honest with you. I didn’t know how to go about requesting those. And as I got in, I was able to do more research, and to see where we could change those things. And I saw a need from the very beginning.”
Brown brought up his earlier opposition to using funds for the vacant grant writer position to raise another employee’s salary. He said the council had previously decided that position was needed and he did not want to lose it.
Washington said almost all of the raise would come from the vacant purchasing agent position, and noted that the grant writer position had been vacant for a year prior to her taking office.
“I was told that if I could manage to stay within the budget, the mayor’s office budget, that it would be fine,” Washington said.
Washington said she had arrived at the proposed salary figure after asking human resources to research salaries of equivalent positions in the Little Rock area.
Asked by Brown what the salary range of the proposed position was, Human Resources Director Vickie Conaway said the proposed chief of staff position ranged from $55,000 at base, to $68,750 in the middle and a maximum of $82,500.
Washington said she did not want to be in a stalemate with Brown and asked what he would accept. Brown said he would accept a proposal by Walker to increase the current assistant’s salary to its maximum salary of $44,336.
“Whether she’s at the 55 [thousand] or not, we will perform the duties,” Washington said. “I’ll just be honest with you. We want to be effective, we want to be as efficient as we could. I just thought it was only fair to compensate her for what she’ll be doing, and her education, background and experience. Whether we get the money or not, we’re going to get into this office and do the very best job we can to move Pine Bluff forward. We’re going to do the best job we can to make Pine Bluff the best city in America. Whether we’re paid for it or not. That’s just our level of commitment to the city.”
“I appreciate that commitment, but it puts us in a position, everybody here thinks they are working hard and going beyond the call of duty, and I just think it would cause a whole lot of turmoil,” Walker said.
Washington told the Commercial in a telephone interview after the meeting that she had asked Conaway at the start of her term if she could change the position to chief of staff and increase the salary in order to bring on someone with higher-than-average training. Washington said she was told it could be done by requesting a budget adjustment.
The committee also voted to recommend to the council a proposal by Brown to make raises for city employees uniform. When an employee is promoted to a position with a higher salary, they receive an additional raise based on their years of employment with the city up to 10 years. Because the city has not given raises in recent years, Brown said, some employees who received promotions have ended up making more than a co-worker in the same position with equal or longer experience with the city.