Contention continues over Vernon’s pay raises

 VERNON ­­– The contentious topic of staff raises continued when Vernon met in workshop Tuesday, July 6.

The City voted to give Public Works employees a retroactive raise when the council met in a called session Thursday, July 1, a decision that was not well received by the CityÂ’s administrative employees who alleged the action discriminated against other staff who have lateral seniority and qualifications.

Mayor Candice Hodges pointed out that the Council intended to look at raises for the administrative staff while developing the new budget, explaining that the immediate raises for the Public Works Department were necessary to prevent losing those who run the CityÂ’s water and sewer infrastructure.

Having heard from City Clerk Tracy Walker on the issue at the called meeting, the Council agreed to revisit the topic at the July workshop. Deputy Clerk Michelle Cross addressed the council in that workshop on Tuesday, becoming emotional, before the discussion ensued.

“It’s unfair,” said Cross, who makes $11.50 an hour. “I get cussed and chewed out at least once a day by upset customers on the most part because I have called in a work order, and [Public Works] has not shown up yet to fix [the problem]. [The Clerk] works her hind end off for you people … We don’t always get along, but I’m here with her all day long, and she stresses over getting things done for you. She deserves to make a decent amount of wages.”

Mayor Hodges responded, reiterating the CouncilÂ’s intention to give raises to Walker and Cross in the new budget, which will become effective in October.

“We have said that at budget, we really wanted [Walker and Cross] to have a raise,” said Hodges. “What we did with the outside workers was an emergency situation.”

Councilman Joey Brock said he didnÂ’t have a problem with ensuring all employees had a raise, but that the council couldnÂ’t take the action until they could prepare the new budget and decide how to fund the increases.

“We can’t give our Clerk a seven-and-a-half dollar raise on our budget right now … when we don’t know what’s in the budget,” said Brock. Mayor Hodges dovetailed off Brock’s statement, pointing out that the City had not received monthly financials to review from the Clerk in a year and therefore it would be difficult to consider staff-wide pay increases.

The Mayor also expressed concern about duties she claims were neglected by Walker, derelictions she says could have potentially cost the City much needed state and federal funding.

“About three weeks ago, I received a phone call around 6:40 at night from FEMA saying that we had not turned in our documentation [for Hurricane Sally funds] and that we were in ineligibility review,” she said. Hodges said Walker had assured her the documentation had been submitted but that FEMA told her the City had missed the deadline. Walker later requested an extension from FEMA submitted the documentation by the new deadline. 

Council President Becky Baxley added that she understood there to be issues with Walker not following through on other duties, giving an example that the Clerk mishandled a situation with a vendor the City was attempting to employ to provide Independence Day fireworks. Baxley stated WalkerÂ’s lack of communication resulted in the vendor cancelling the service due to a missed deposit deadline. Walker later submitted documentation to show her electronic and phone communications with that vendor, which showed a discrepancy in the quoted deadlines.

Bringing the workshop discussion back to the issue of raises, Councilwoman Gwen March chastised Walker and Cross for not speaking up sooner.

“When we [discussed raises for Public Works] in the beginning, nobody said anything,” said March. “How long have we been discussing these raises? Did you say anything? No, you didn’t. Nobody said anything. Why didn’t you speak up then? Why did you wait until everything was going through, and then it was a different story? If you had an issue with it, why did you let it go this far? All you had to do was say, ‘What about us?’ but you didn’t.”

The Council will, as planned, address the raises while they develop the new budget, a process that is expected to begin later this summer.

Vernon City Council will meet in regular session at 5:30 p.m., Monday, July 19.