Farmington’s investigation is proper step
Farmington officials are right to hire a law firm to investigate raises some senior city staff received over the years.
A review by this newspaper has revealed some Farmington senior staff and former City Administrator Ed Shukle received some raises and promotions based on a 2002 compensation study that found senior staff were already earning more than similar positions in other cities.
The raises and promotions were authorized by senior officials who signed off on each other’s raises without full knowledge of then-Farmington City Council members, according to meeting minutes and interviews with then-City Council members.
Shukle, Farmington Human Resources Director Brenda Wendlandt and former Finance Director Robin Roland received raises based on the compensation study that raised questions by this newspaper because the study did not appear to support the raises.
News reports published in this paper state that then-Farmington City Council members were never shown the complete study findings, despite an e-mail obtained by this newspaper showing City Attorney Joel Jamnik recommended Wendlandt share the full compensation study with council.
Instead, Wendlandt presented a brief overview of the study and mentioned some positions would receive raises and new titles as a result of it.
Wendlandt, who has had 25 raises in her 15 years with the city, was given raises and two promotions, one based on the compensation study, without the specific knowledge or approval of then council members.
Roland approved Wendlandt’s first promotion, from human resources coordinator to human resources manager, in April 2001 while acting city administrator; it came with a retroactive raise and brought her salary to $60,000.
The next year, Shukle authorized two more raises for Wendlandt before promoting her to a director, based on the compensation study, although the study stated she was earning $10,000 more than her counterparts when her position was classified as a manager.
Shukle authorized five raises for Roland in the 22 months he led the city.
Roland went from earning a salary of $65,453 in September 2001 to $78,419 by July 2003, according to city records.
Two of the raises were based on the compensation study, which found her $71,811 salary 2.4 percent higher than the market median for finance directors.
When Roland left Farmington in November 2009, she was earning $101,795 plus benefits; she had started as finance director in November 1996 at a salary of $49,000.
Shukle’s salary increased from $80,000 in September 2001 to $93,383 when he was asked to resign in July 2003.
According to Shukle’s employment contract, his salary was to increase to $83,000 if council gave him a satisfactory job review.
His contract also allowed him another raise after a year, again providing he earned a satisfactory job performance evaluation from the City Council.
Shukle wrote a Dec. 16, 2002, memo to council members stating the city administrator is eligible for cost-of-living raises, and should receive them at the same time as non-union employees; it was approved by the then-City Council.
Current City Administrator Dave McKnight has said raises for the administrator are approved by a separate resolution by the City Council, and are not part of negotiated raises for non-union employees.
Former City Council Member Lacelle Cordes said then-council members expressed concerns, but were discouraged from asking questions.
“It was like ‘How dare you question us? This is how it is.’” Cordes told the reporter who started investigating salary histories after an April workshop that focused on the city’s former merit-pay program instituted by Wendlandt, but frozen three years ago by the Farmington City Council.
This newspaper recognizes that the job of a public official is tough, and the fact that their salaries are public records compounds scrutiny.
The newspaper takes no issue with raises that are justified by increased responsibility or exceptional performance when approved by supervisors and the City Council.
As elected officials, City Council members are ultimately the ones who have to answer to taxpayers about how money is spent, and should have be provided clear, accurate and detailed information about ever aspect of the budget, including salaries.
This newspaper’s investigation into salary histories required extensive review of documents, reports, City Council meeting minutes and interviews that have raised questions about the procedures followed for some salary increases.
The effort to determine whether the raises and promotions were justified and followed a process that meets standards is a worthy endeavor for the city to embark upon, and as Farmington’s leaders, McKnight and the current Farmington City Council deserve praise for authorizing an investigation into those practices.
This is an editorial from Sun Thisweek.