For some Farmington department heads, multiple raises
Human Resources Director salary nearly tripled after title changes
For over a decade, some Farmington department heads have received raises every few months, their salaries far surpassing the 1- or 2 percent cost-of-living increases approved by the City Council each year.
Questions have been raised about how those raises were approved, the justification for them and how some promotions were handled.
In the 15 years Human Resources Director Brenda Wendlandt has worked for the city of Farmington, her salary has almost tripled and her title twice changed.
Wendlandt did not respond to phone messages and emails seeking comment, but City Administrator Dave McKnight said Wendlandt’s responsibilities increased to include payroll supervisor, chief labor negotiator for Farmington, and data practices compliance officer among other duties.
Wendlandt started as a human resources coordinator earning $38,500 per year in April 1997.
By the end of 2000, Wendlandt had good job performance reviews, according to city pay reports, and received five raises to earn $48,901.
Over the years, six of her 25 raises were approved by then-Finance Director Robin Roland while serving as interim city administrator in 2001 and 2005.
Roland’s first promotion to interim city administrator came after then-City Administrator John Erar’s March 20, 2001, resignation.
According to an internal March 28, 2001, memo, Roland based Wendlandt’s 4 percent raise on a positive performance review and a market analysis conducted as part of the budget process.
Roland, who is currently the finance director in Cottage Grove, also received a $2,538 raise based upon the Stanton multi-city pay equity survey, and with her cost-of-living and pay equity adjustments brought her a 10 percent salary increase in 2001.
In an interview, Roland said the market analysis would have been conducted as part of the budget process, and any promotions Wendlandt received would not have been a decision Roland made on her own, but continuing a process Erar had initiated.
Erar said he did not recall the specifics of the pay study or the raise Wendlandt received as a result.
He said he hired Wendlandt and she “did an excellent job.”
The study was likely conducted, he said, because the city was growing at the time and employees probably had to have additional knowledge and skills.
“Basically, if the city is getting larger, there’s a lot more work,” Erar said.
He added that interim city administrators typically work to keep operations “status quo” until a permanent administrator is hired.
“When you’re authorizing a new position, that typically needs approval within the budget process,” Erar said.
He said the City Council approves salary ranges, and increases that fall within those ranges would not require specific council action to implement.
“I suspect an interim administrator would probably want to keep council well aware of any actions they take if they’re an interim,” he said.
Lakeville City Human Resources Manager Cindi Joosten said city staff promotions there involve multiple steps that include review by a position evaluation committee and a personnel committee before it is brought to the City Council for approval.
Any accompanying raise must go through the same approval process, she said, but added when Lakeville was a smaller city, it did not have the same amount of internal controls.
Wendlandt’s March 2001 raise was authorized retroactive to Jan. 1, 2001.
One week later, on April 2, 2001, Roland authorized Wendlandt’s title to be changed to manager and signed off on another 10.5 percent raise that brought Wendlandt’s salary to $60,000.
Her job title change was not approved or considered by City Council, according to a review of city meeting minutes from that time. Wendlandt has brought other similar employee promotions before the council seeking a resolution for approval, including one in November 2002 for an administrative services director.
Farmington’s city code does not specify if those kinds of promotions require council approval. Currently the League of Minnesota Cities states that Farmington’s governance structure requires job promotions be ratified by the City Council.
In 2001, Wendlandt had earned a 22 percent raise that included a pay equity adjustment of $1,756; Minnesota state law requires public entities to regularly conduct equity studies to promote equal pay.
By September 2002, then-City Administrator Ed Shukle promoted Wendlandt to human resources director without council approval, according to city records.
Citing the 2002 compensation study, Wendlandt’s salary increased to $68,440.
According to Page 13 of the study, Wendlandt’s then $67,521 salary was already between 6.9 percent and 14.7 percent above the other salaries in the comparison.
Those findings were never presented in city meeting packets and then-council members interviewed for this story did not recall those being reviewed by the council.
City Council Member Jason Bartholomay said he recently reviewed the compensation study, and understood it to say in general most city management positions were then paid above-average while lower-skill positions were then paid below-average.
Then-Farmington City Council members interviewed said they do not recall if they were shown the full $26,500 study, or voted to approve the study findings.
The council authorized the study be conducted, according to city council packet material, but did not vote to accept its findings.
“I don’t have a clue who authorized it,” then-Mayor Jerry Ristow said of the way the study conclusions were implemented.
Many city staff received a raise as a result of the study, said former Council Member Lacelle Cordes.
Cordes said the council also didn’t know about title changes, and she got the impression staff just wanted the council to “rubber stamp” everything.
“We questioned them, but we got dogged if we questioned what they were doing,” Cordes said. “It was like ‘How dare you question us? This is how it is.’ ”
A Sept. 16, 2002, memo from Wendlandt to the council said the city’s final recommendation regarding the study will include “salary adjustments and title changes for some city staff,” without identifying the positions or mentioning Wendlandt’s position as manager could become a director and move into a higher salary range.
In January 2003, Wendlandt received another raise based on the compensation study, and a 2-percent cost-of-living increase that brought her salary to $76,882.
She continued to receive three raises in both 2004 and 2005 bringing her salary to $90,884, a 15 percent increase over two years.
In addition to the cost-of-living raises approved by council annually, the reasons for raises she was given throughout her time with the city include merit steps, compensation study adjustments, market adjustments, pay equity adjustments, position change adjustments, performance awards, contract adjustments and step adjustments.
Cited once in Wendlandt’s city pay records was “FDDA (Farmington Department Directors Association) contract Adjustments” that resulted in a 3 percent salary increase.
McKnight said the FDDA was an independent union department heads formed for a brief time, but has since disbanded.
Wendlandt currently earns $106,613 making her one of the highest paid employees at the city.
Other city department heads have also received multiple pay increases over the years.
Former Administrative Services Director Lisa Shadick’s salary was $31,772 when she started as assistant operations manager at the city’s liquor store in September 1996.
By November 2002, when Wendlandt recommended the council approve the appointment of Shadick to administrative services director, her salary had risen 47 percent to $46,873, boosted by pay equity, cost-of-living and market adjustment raises.
The new job included a 31 percent pay increase.
From 2003 to 2009, Shadick received 16 more raises, including three merit increases and a step increase.
She was given increases based on the 2002 compensation study, although the Page 13 chart shows her salary was between 8 percent and 10.5 percent above that of similar positions elsewhere.
Shadick’s salary was $101,795 in 2010 when her position was eliminated due to city budget concerns.
Roland’s salary history indicates she started in November 1996 at a salary of $49,000.
She received cost-of-living increases, pay equity adjustments and two raises based on the 2002 compensation study.
Page 13 of the study also indicates Farmington’s finance director salary was above-average compared to other entities by between 2.4 percent and 7.7 percent.
City salary sheets show Roland received salary increases when she was named interim city
administrator in 2001 and 2005.
In 2001, her salary went back to $65,453 after an administrator was hired and her normal duties resumed.
In 2005, Roland’s pay increased from $87,056 to $88,314 for the extra work.
Once those duties ended, she was given a 2.9 percent merit increase above her temporary salary that was signed by then-Mayor Kevan Soderberg.
Roland said she received the increase the second time because she had advanced in the city’s compensation system, qualified for merit pay.
She said the city got a good deal when she served as interim for nine months in 2005, because she only received $1,000 more to take on the city’s top job duties than she would have received had she not done the extra work.
Farmington City Council members have expressed concern about the wage increases and promotions that have apparently occurred without council approval.
City Council Member Christy Jo Fogarty said when she started on the city council 10 years ago, she was under the impression that Wendlandt’s position had always been a director.
“I don’t remember ever taking a vote approving that job become a director,” Fogarty said. “I don’t think it happened.
“It certainly wasn’t something that was said in a memo on a council agenda.”
Bartholomay advocated for all information to be presented to the council.
“I think that council should be aware of those types of things,” he said. “Anytime there is an increase in the budget … the council should be aware of the details as to what that is making up that increase. We have to be able to report those things back to our constituents.”
“This does concern me,” Farmington Mayor Todd Larson wrote in an e-mail to Sun Thisweek.
Council Members Julie May and Terry Donnelly were unable to be reached for comment.
Larson added he is proud to be part of the current council.
“We ask questions and David keeps us fully informed on items such as this,” Larson said. “The way Farmington does business has changed with this council and with David, the management team does not and will not run the city.”
Numerous requests were made of Wendlandt to provide information for this story. She had not responded to those requests as of press time.
Information for this story was provided by other city staff members and McKnight.
Laura Adelmann is at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/sunthisweek.