VOL. 131 | NO. 4 | Wednesday, January 6, 2016
Council OKs Strickland's Directors, He Defends Pay Raises
By Bill Dries
Memphis City Council members approved Mayor Jim Strickland’s slate of 12 division chiefs and directors Tuesday, Jan. 5, at the first council meeting of 2016. And Strickland defended the pay raises for some of those positions compared to the salaries those appointed positions paid in the Wharton administration.
“Even with the increase, it’s still below market value, certainly in the private sector, but even in the government sector,” Strickland said in the first committee session of the day. “Every position at MLGW pays more than what I’m proposing to pay. And the second thing I’m asking you to keep in mind is there is a net decrease.”
Strickland also defended the pay raises because some of the positions with almost the same title are taking up functions from positions he is eliminating. That is the case with the chief communications officer which will speak for all divisions of city government, not just the mayor’s office, and will also be involved in the marketing of city services.
The chiefs and directors approved by the council Tuesday are:
- Chief Operating Officer Doug McGowen
- Chief Financial Officer Brian Collins
- Chief Communications Officer Ursula Madden
- City Attorney/Chief Legal Officer Bruce McMullen
- Chief Human Resources Officer Alexandria Smith
- Fire Director Gina Sweat
- General Services Director Antonio Adams
- Housing and Community Development Director Paul Young
- Public Works Division Director Robert Knecht
- Libraries Director Keenon McCloy
- Workforce Investment Network Executive Director Kevin Woods
- The council also approved Rick Copeland as director of the Office of Planning and Development, a joint city-county agency.
Strickland estimated the positions eliminated in his reorganization of the administration, including some deputy director positions, save the city more than $600,000 across a fiscal year even with the pay raises for some positions.
Strickland also said he is likely to return to the council in several weeks, once he is settled in, with some adjustment to the city budget for the fiscal year that began July 1 during the tenure of his predecessor as mayor, A C Wharton.
The council, which included six new members voting at their first council session since winning election last year, had a lot of questions Tuesday about the slate of appointments. But 11 of the 13 were approved with unanimous votes.
Strickland talked individually with council members between the committee session reviewing his appointees and the votes by the full council.
In the process, he agreed to boost the pay of Sweat from $140,000 to $145,000. A move by some council members to boost it further to $150,000, the same amount made by interim Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong, was voted down the council.
Council member Joe Brown also proposed boosting the pay of McMullen from $90,000 a year to $100,000 a year.
“Everybody wants to sue the city of Memphis,” Brown said. “A lawyer’s work is never finished.”
“I really thought this was tongue in cheek,” council member Janis Fullilove replied. “But I see my colleague is serious.”
The council also voted down that motion.
Collins, meanwhile, faced pointed questions from Fullilove about his role in the Wharton administration.
She and other council members clashed with Collins regularly on his estimates of the city’s finances as the council considered and approved controversial cuts in health insurance and pension benefits of city employees.
Fullilove said at times Collins “looked like a deer in the headlights.”
She also cited a common sentiment among council members at that time that Collins and others were often blind-sided by conflicting numbers and estimates from other parts of the same administration.
Strickland, at one point, said his administration would speak with one voice and that he would be talking with council members directly to make sure there was no confusion.
Despite Fullilove’s reservations, she voted for Collins in what was a unanimous vote.
“You had to be the messenger and sometimes the messenger gets shot,” she said to Collins just before the vote.
In other action, the council approved a change in the Deputy Fire Chief’s position to make it an appointed position instead of being a position that is protected by the city’s civil service system.
The council also approved Tuesday a quit claim deed that makes Handy Park on Beale Street city property instead of the property of the Memphis Housing Authority.
The change in ownership includes the park under city-owned land in the entertainment district that is controlled by the new Beale Street Tourism Development Authority.
In planning and zoning items, the council again delayed a vote on plans for a hotel with retail on the ground floor at Jackson Avenue and Front Street, across Front Street from the Pyramid.
The council approved a tractor-trailer terminal and drop yard at Brooks and McCorkle Roads.
It also approved a $5.2 million no-interest loan agreement the Public Works division is pursuing to finance buying up to 105,000 recycling garbage carts.
The city is seeking the loan from the Closed Loop Fund, a social impact fund whose investors include Walmart, Coca-Cola, Pepsico, Procter & Gamble, Johnson and Johnson, Colgate-Palmolive, Unilever, Keurig Green Mountain and Goldman Sachs.
The fund invests specifically in recycling of products and packaging efforts with a goal of diverting 20 million cumulative metric tons of waste from landfills by 2025.
Knecht said of 177,000 city customers who are to get the new larger recycling bins, 130,000 are still without the carts. The loan would go a long way to getting the city closer to having most of the city outfitted with the containers.
If the Closed Loop Fund loan is not approved, Knecht said he would pursue financing through the city’s solid waste fund and pay back the money from the fund with the savings to the city from the move to more recycling.
And the new council put to rest the last of the old council’s contract impasse proceedings from 2015.
A council impasse committee in 2015 sided with the last final offer of Memphis Light Gas and Water Division in the contract impasse with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
The dispute was over a step pay increase for linemen by the utility that the union contended should have been a two-step pay increase for linemen and cable splicers.
Fullilove moved to veto the impasse committee’s decision which would have made the union’s last final offer the settlement. The council rejected the veto and the settlement is MLGW’s final offer.