Proposed raise ill-timed, ill-conceived

Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth has advanced a tone-deaf proposal to give her assistant, Evelyn Horton, a $15,000 per year pay raise.The Pine Bluff City Council Administration Committee voted Tuesday to recommend the proposal to the full council. If passed by the council, the salary increase — which would include a redefinition of Horton’s job description — would formally recast Horton’s responsibilities to reflect the actual scope of her duties.

“This should not be looked at as a pay raise so much as the adjustment of a salary to reflect what is really an entirely different position than the one described in the most recent job announcement from 2006,” Hollingsworth said.

We understand the concept entirely. Today’s world is all about doing more with less. Someone retires or quits — or is laid off — and his duties get shifted around to others. Anyone who is working is more than likely doing more today than that job required just a few years ago. Consequently, we cannot support a 45 percent pay raise for someone who has been in the job less than a year and who knew, along with the mayor, that that’s what the job paid when she took it.

We don’t doubt that Horton has a key position in the administration. Even so, this is an adjustment that is poorly timed and poorly thought out. Asking to reclassify a position and increase a salary by 45 percent would be a difficult sell at any point in time. Council member George Stepps said it best: “If you don’t think we’re going to catch hell for giving her a $15,000 raise. We’re going to catch some flak for giving a person who’s been in that position for less than a year that kind of raise.” And the criticism would be well-placed. While assenting to the logic of the proposed changes, Stepps correctly proffered that most people will focus on the money. He’s right. The money is the unavoidable elephant in the room.

As Stepps continued, “Other people in city government will say that their job has more responsibilities than it used to and will ask why they can’t get a raise too.” As stated earlier, if doing more is the argument for being paid more, most everyone at city hall would get a big increase.

We’re willing to bet Fire Chief Shawn Howell, who recently endured the budgetary cutback gauntlet, might have some strong feelings about this proposal — especially in light of those fire trucks that leave the station with fewer firefighters than might be optimal.

In support of the $15,000 proposed raise, City Human Resources Director Vickie Conaway stated that the figure represented the increase necessary to reach parity with other positions of a similar nature in other cities.

Again, we don’t dispute that this is an accurate representation of the facts at hand. Of course similar salary surveys would also reveal grim disparities between local police officer salaries and the salaries of officers in cities where demand conditions are similar. We notice that no one is seriously talking about prioritizing that inequity. And if Horton’s salary is out of line with those with similar positions in other cities, we imagine other city employees are suffering from the same situation.

While it is semantically true that the responsibilities of the mayor’s assistant have expanded in recent years, the fact of the matter is that this represents a 45 percent pay increase for one individual at a time when nearly all other city departments are in a terrific financial bind. We can barely keep fire trucks and police cars on the street. At a time when everyone is tightening their belts, it’s an insult for one person in one department to be led to the all-you-can-eat buffet.

Perhaps when core issues of public safety and infrastructure have been resolved, this issue can be entertained anew, but for now, all involved need to be satisfied with the terms and compensation that were contracted on the front.