Citys top managers are extended

January 3, 2012
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Grand Rapids city commissioners ended 2011 by agreeing to two key, four-year labor agreements and by revising the contracts of four key managers.

“We’re extraordinarily fortunate to have these people working with us. We want to extend their contracts for another year,” said Mayor George Heartwell.

City Manager Greg Sundstrom, City Attorney Catherine Mish, City Treasurer Albert Mooney and City Clerk Lauri Parks received one-year extensions but without pay increases.

While Sundstrom’s contract remained the same, the agreements for Mish, Mooney and Parks have one change for 2012. The three will receive six months of severance pay should they be let go, instead of three months’ severance under last year’s contract.

“It’s fair to say the One Kent proposal shook the ground a little bit,” said Heartwell of the effect the coalition’s effort to merge the city with Kent County has had on job security.

Parks will earn $95,043 this year, so her six-month severance would be $47,521. Mooney will receive $110,278, and Mish will be paid $115,689; their severance salaries would be $55,139 and $57,844, respectively.

Sundstrom will earn $143,998 this year as the city’s top manager. Commissioner Walt Gutowski said the salary research he did revealed that managers in cities comparable to Grand Rapids were earning 50 percent more than Sundstrom.

Commissioners also ratified four-year labor contracts with the Grand Rapids Police Officers Association and the Grand Rapids Police Command Officers Association. The contracts are retroactive to July 1, 2010, and run through June 30, 2014.

“These are not easy negotiations, but in the end, the parties came to an agreement that concessions are necessary,” said Heartwell.

The new contracts are expected to reduce compensation costs for the city by 8.2 percent, the backup target commissioners set for total concessions from all bargaining units. Initially, they asked for a 10 percent reduction. City CFO Scott Buhrer said the unions actually agreed to a larger concession than the targeted number so officers and commanders will receive a pay hike of 1.5 percent over the contract’s term. The increase goes into effect Sunday, and then their wages will be frozen for the term.

The employees will pay more for their health insurance premiums and contribute more to their pension plans. New hires will receive reduced pension benefits. “Employees who work a 12-hour shift will no longer have an earned day off. These changes are very consistent with police officers and police command,” said Buhrer.

“We are so fortunate for them being as professional as they are. They save us a lot of dollars,” said Gutowski.

Greg Hillary, president of the police officers union, said his membership and city management have the same goal: to make Grand Rapids a financially sustainable city. “Failure to successfully communicate and collaborate between employees and municipalities has had devastating effects in other regions of the state of Michigan,” he said. “We will never accept that type of outcome for the city of Grand Rapids.”

Capt. Pete McWatters, president of the command association, said his group was motivated to come to an agreement with the city to help it meet its current financial challenges.

“We believe that we achieved this through the shared sacrifice of our members, and we look forward to working with city leaders to keep Grand Rapids a desirable place to live and work for our members and the citizens we serve,” he said.

Commissioners also gave immediate effect to six other labor agreements that were negotiated earlier last year. Three of the six bargaining units are with the Grand Rapids Employee Independent Union, the largest representative of city workers. All agreed to changes in their pensions to reduce the city’s costs for the retirement plans. The compensation reductions are part of the city’s transformation plan, which is expected to continue until 2015.

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