City Council dug into the nitty gritty of Mayor Bill Peduto’s personnel restructuring plan in their committee meeting Wednesday.
Matt Barron, Peduto’s policy advisor, was on hand to explain the changes and answer questions from council. Not every change went over well, but the mayor’s plan to add a second grants officer to the Department of Finance was receive with enthusiasm. Barron said this position would be specifically charged with seeking out new grants for which the city could apply.
“We simply don’t have the capacity and don’t have a staff person whose job it is to do that right now, and we’re leaving millions … of dollars on the table because we’re not actually actively going after those opportunities,” Barron said.
Council members agreed this was an important step but said that it may not go far enough. Councilwoman Darlene Harris said she’d like to see a more robust commitment to seeking grant funding for a variety of city projects. Councilman Dan Gilman echoed that sentiment and said he had already met with companies like Coca-Cola, IBM and Microsoft about potential grant opportunities.
“Almost every Fortune 500 company has a foundation making grants to cities, whether it’s for recycling bins, which is something I’ve looked at. If you go to other cities and they all have blue recycling bins, instead of blue plastic bags. There are corporations that will pay for those for cities,” said Gilman. “There are a lot of healthy initiatives around healthy foods, healthy drinks, obesity.”
A change that was received less well by some members of Council was Peduto’s request to increase the public safety director’s salary by up to $20,000 a year. The current director, Michael Huss, makes $105,000 a year.
Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith said she was particularly bothered by the request and that no one in the city should be making more money than the mayor. Peduto makes $107,000 per year.
“I don’t see why we would put an additional $20,000 into a position when somebody’s currently doing the job who finished at the top of Talent City’s list,” Kail-Smith said.
Councilwoman Darlene Harris said it appeared that Peduto had someone besides Huss in mind for the job, but that that person would not work for less than $125,000.
Barron said that was not the case and that the mayor wanted to re-open applications for the job with a higher salary range because he was not satisfied with the candidates he’d seen at the lower salary range. Barron also said all of the top candidates who were selected through Talent City said in their interviews that they would need more than $105,000 in order to accept the position. According to Barron, salaries for public safety directors in cities with comparable populations and costs of living range from $160,000 a year to $200,000 a year.
Councilman Ricky Burgess said he shared some of Kail-Smith’s concerns but that he was willing to vote for the salary increase.
“I think that’s different and separate from micro-managing the search committee,” said Burgess. “If, for whatever reason, the committee or the mayor or the mayor’s office decides that a higher salary range is needed for a competitive position, I am willing to give him that tool.”
The mayor also wants to move the Bureau of Procurement, Fleet, and Asset Services from the Department of Finance to the Office of Management and Budget.
Barron said the change makes sense because the Department of Finance should primarily deal with revenues while Management and Budget should deal with expenditures.
“We feel that this is an important re-assignment of roles and responsibilities that will help us get a better handle on how we’re spending this money, what the policies and procedures are for spending it, and to be able to make those things more transparent to City Council and to the public,” said Barron.
Other changes in the Department of Finance will replace lower level positions with higher level management positions. Barron said this is necessary to implement the cash management policy that was put into law by City Council.
Additionally, the mayor has proposed combining and eliminating some vacant positions, adding a position in Parks and Recreation, and adding two tax collection positions in the Department of Finance. Barron said the total budget savings for the changes will be a little over $125,000. He also said this will likely be the last round of restructuring until next year.
All of the proposed budget amendments received preliminary approval at Wednesday's meeting. They will come to Council for a final vote on Tuesday.