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Editorial: Council Sneaks Employee Policy

The morale of public employees in the City of Falls Church already was already very poor due to the combination of salary freezes, layoffs burdening remaining staff with more work, and take-home pay hit by new requirements to contribute to pension and health plan costs.

So when Falls Church City Manager Wyatt Shields’ proposed Fiscal Year 2013 budget last month recommended a fourth consecutive year of no net increase in take home pay (another pay cut measured against inflation), City employees jammed the Council chambers with one of the largest contingents ever seen at such a meeting to protest.

The levels of stress and angst were palpable. These are human lives, none making enough to get rich, but forced to work extra hours to keep their jobs and for less pay. Few can even afford to live in Falls Church.

So, it was shocking to discover at a City Council budget work session last Thursday that what Shields proposed was not really what he wanted, or felt should happen. He confessed he’d wanted a three percent across-the-board salary increase, he told the Council, over and above the one-time $1,800 bonus presented to all City employees in the Fiscal Year 2012 budget.

It was “Council guidance,” he said, that caused him to remove the bonus money component, which would have provided a modest net take-home pay hike had it been included. Council members reacted like they were surprised.

But a Nov. 17, 2011 memo to the Council by Shields reveals that Shields’ guidance at that time was for a three percent salary increase and that the $1,800 bonus of Fiscal Year 2012 be “incorporated into base salary” in Fiscal Year 2013.

No contradiction to that recommendation was included in the motion on budget guidance adopted by the City Council at its Nov. 28, 2011 business meeting, except that, in the minutes of that meeting, it was noted that the resolution include “the same understanding that the Mayor was indicating a minute ago.”

That “understanding” was, in the words of Mayor Nader Baroukh made just before the vote, “That a bonus be treated as a one-time bonus; that it not be folded into anything underlying unless it comes back to the Council.”

In other words, in that one sentence, included as an “understanding” and not in any formal language, Shields was told to propose that all City employees be consigned to a fourth straight year of no net increase in pay. Shields confirmed to the News-Press that’s how he read the guidance resolution for preparing his budget.

Vice Mayor David Snyder made the motion to adopt that resolution, with that “understanding,” and Council member Johannah Barry seconded it. It passed unanimously.

With all the talk of “transparency” in government, this strikes us as an egregious violation. The potential damage it has caused to the City, even if the Council winds up providing a real salary hike, is incalculable.

 

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