The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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June 26, 2011

Council to have public hearing on pay raises

BECKLEY — A relatively short Beckley Common Council agenda holds a very big issue.

A second reading and public hearing on an ordinance for pay raises for council members and Beckley Mayor Emmett Pugh is scheduled during the meeting, which begins at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in council chambers.

The ordinance, drawn up by City Attorney Bill File at the suggestion of outgoing Councilman at Large Rob Rappold, suggests the annual salary of the mayor be increased from $42,500 to $55,000. The mayor’s salary was last amended in 2003. Council members’ pay would be hiked from $4,800 to $6,000 under the proposal; the council salary was last raised in 2007.

City Recorder/Treasurer Gary Sutphin explained neither the mayor nor council can vote on a raise for themselves during that term in office, and with the upcoming five-year term starting July 1, it was now or wait until 2016.

Sutphin said the raises would not affect the budget significantly.

“When you are dealing with a $15 million budget, an extra $20,000 is not a big deal, he said.”

Rappold’s suggestion was first brought in front of council May 24. Some concerns were then voiced when the first reading took place June 14.

Councilman at Large Cedric Robertson said he would only favor the raise if it coincides with a raise for city employees.

“City employees are the ones that do all the work and make us look good,” he said at the meeting.

And now, just days before the public hearing will be held, he told The Register-Herald he stands firm in his position.

Ward III Councilman Frank Williams said he has no problem with awarding raises but added he has concerns over how Rappold presented the raise proposal to council.

“The only problem I have is the way Councilman at Large Rappold had said he had done some surveying, and he was looking into different salaries of mayors in different places, and he made that decision to have it put on the agenda,”  Williams explained.

Williams said he did not think it was fair because it was Rappold’s opinion, and other members were not consulted before bringing it before council.

“What should have happened was he should have gotten with the other council people and discussed it. I feel like it was completely out of order,” Williams said.

Rappold explained how he arrived at his decision.

“To begin with, I was in a unique position to bring the matter up because I decided not to run for re-election, as did (Ward I) Councilman (A.K.) Minter,” he said. “That left us with two council members who were defeated and would not be returning — Ward V Councilman Arnold “Lee” Leftwich and Williams. The remaining council members do return, and due to conflict of interest, I could not involve them. And of course, the newly elected members are just kind of out of the picture as far as this issue goes.”

He went on to say that he had no idea what the mayor was paid until it was published in The Register-Herald after the May election. Considering the hands-on role of the mayor and his responsibilities, Rappold said Pugh is underpaid.

He compared the mayor’s salary to those in similar-sized municipalities, many of which also employ a city manager, with salaries higher than Pugh’s. He also said with Beckley on the verge of so many great things, the jobs of mayor and council will demand more.

“Beckley is just on the cusp of so many great opportunities that it will require the council and mayor to be even more vigilant in their duties, and due to this election cycle being five years before a raise could be considered  — because the sitting council cannot vote their own raises in — they were looking at five more years of people who are already underpaid, the same rationale goes in my mind with City Council,” he explained.

Minter, Ward II Councilwoman Ann Worley and Leftwich all agreed the mayor is deserving of more money. However, some questioned the raise proposed for council members.

“First of all, I was really surprised that Rob had brought it up,” Worley said. “I had never thought about it, but I don’t do this for the salary. It’s some thing that I love, and I wouldn’t have to get paid to be happy doing this.”

Though Worley said she did not have a problem with raises for council, she did say it is imperative for the city to consider its employees after the books close on the fiscal year.

Leftwich said he supports a raise for the mayor, but not council. However, since the ordinance was written to include both parties, he would be voting in support.

Members brought up important points about Pugh — saying he has won Mayor of the Year, was a Spirit of Beckley recipient, serves as the head of the Legislative Committee for the Municipal League — and said he was one of the hardest-working, hands-on mayors in the state.

Rappold explained that when he approached Pugh about a raise, the mayor said, “Rob, you know I am not going to get into that. You can certainly ask the city attorney to draft an ordinance, but I don’t want to be involved with it because it would appear to be very self-serving.”

But when pressed for his opinion Pugh said, “Frankly, I do think it is low, but there again, I’m not sure what it should be. We are a strong mayor form of government, and we do not have a city manager.”

He said in Charleston, where they also employ a city manager, the mayor is paid somewhere between $80,000 and $100,000.

“I guess you have to look at it as that No. 1, if nothing is done now, then nothing can be done for five years; there has only been one raise in 22 years,” Pugh explained.

When asked about Robertson’s opposition because the ordinance does not include a raise for city employees he said, “I am not going to come and recommend a pay raise for city employees just for the fact that I want to see council and the mayor’s office raised. We still have to be prudent, but I will have a memo that I will be giving them that Gary sent to me in regards to pay raises.

“He and I have been looking into this since May, and we will recommend something, but we just don’t have a firm grasp on what that will be, but it will be something. But just like this upcoming agenda, there will be a longevity resolution for our employees, and we have done pay supplements in December to reward our employees. I think our employees have fared very well over the years, and we always try to maintain that.

“As I mentioned the other day, health insurance went up 17 percent in January. Now, that’s a raise. If you didn’t have to pull that money out of your pocket, that is basically a raise that the city gave you,” Pugh explained.

“I am very cognizant of the fact that we need to reward our employees, but at the same time, I can tell you, because Rob Rappold told me — he looked at a copy of the city’s gross wages for last year for W-2s — and there are 51 city employees making more than the mayor. I realize that is going to happen when you have overtime and such, but I guess you have to look at it as it is not so much giving it to me, as you are giving it to the office, and I think there is a distinction that should be drawn there.”

Ward IV Councilman Mike Atterson could not be reached for comment.

Council chambers are located in the City Hall Municipal Building, 409 S. Kanawha Street.

— E-mail: kvanpelt@register-herald.com

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