Government and Human Resources

Commission may change pay evaluation process

City commissioners who voted against hikes will serve on new committee.

January 11, 2013
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The next time Grand Rapids city commissioners evaluate the performances of the city’s four top executives, they may base their decisions on a new evaluation process.

After using what Mayor George Heartwell called the city’s standard “360 evaluation” to approve wage hikes for three of the executives last week, commissioners agreed to have a committee review the city’s current process and suggest changes to how the board does evaluations.

In fact, the mayor named commissioners Dave Shaffer and Elias Lumpkins to the panel after both voted last week against giving City Manager Greg Sundstrom, City Attorney Catherine Mish and City Treasurer Al Mooney pay increases for this year. That appointment means Shaffer and Lumpkins will play key roles in examining the current process.

Heartwell also said the city’s Human Resources Department may conduct a wage-and-benefits study as part of the effort — something he said the city hasn’t done since the mid-1990s.

As for the city’s fourth executive, City Clerk Lauri Parks: “There are no changes to the clerk’s contract,” the mayor said.

All four are appointed to their positions and are evaluated annually by the commission.

The 360 process included each commissioner’s personal evaluation, responses from employees who work with each executive, a comparison of wages paid and benefits offered to comparable officials in other cities, and face-to-face interviews with each executive.

Commissioners then met in closed-door sessions and made their decisions. Heartwell said the entire process took two weeks.

“We came to the conclusion that these wage increases were warranted based on performance,” said Heartwell. A majority of the commission agreed to give Sundstrom, Mish and Mooney a 2 percent salary increase. The mayor said it was their first pay hike in three years.

“This was a thoughtful conversation based on performance. If you look at what our three have lost from not having a step increase, it is more than the 2 percent,” said Commissioner Rosalynn Bliss. A step increase is a wage hike that occurs at a regular interval and often involves a 5 percent raise.

However, Shaffer, who didn’t attend the closed sessions, felt otherwise. He said the decision should have been based on the city’s total employee cost, such as a recent 9 percent increase in health insurance premiums, and the overall compensation plan the three have with the city, not just their wages. He also said the increases might present a misleading impression of the city’s true budget status.

Heartwell, though, said the commission would need more time to appraise performances in the manner Shaffer suggested, but was willing to do so. Commissioner Ruth Kelly said a new process would need to get underway earlier.

“We have to have an earlier start. I’m concerned about the process that we used,” said Lumpkins, who voted against the raises because of the process.

“If I’m not mistaken, we do have a committee looking at the process in two weeks,” said Commissioner James White.

By a 5-2 vote, commissioners approved the pay increases for the three officials. Heartwell said the raises were based on merit and that the 2 percent hikes weren’t the norm for the total work force. The pay increases became effective immediately after the vote.

Sundstrom gets an increase of $2,880 for this year for a salary of $146,868. The salary for Mish rises by $2,314 to $118,003, while Mooney’s goes up by $2,206 to $112,484. Parks’ salary remains at $95,043. Mish will also receive a tuition reimbursement worth up to $3,600, as she is working on her master’s degree in public administration.

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