Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Citizen Blasts City Council in Letter to Editor

HELENA-WEST HELENA --- A local citizen and supporter of Mayor Arnell Willis penned a letter following the city council meeting which was held to discuss city finances on day 196 without a clear answer to whether the city has a legal budget. There is wrangling on "both" sides of the budget issue. Some say that the city council passed a budget called the "Brown" budget after its author, Alderman Larry Brown of Brown's Home for Funerals. Then the mayor failed to properly present his veto of the budget at the next regularly scheduled city council meeting thereby failing to fully veto the budget. Such a failure, it is argued, means that the budget became law following the city council meeting after the veto statement.

Mayor Willis and those who agree with him have consistently defended his position based upon at least two tenets: 1) Mayor Willis has the ability to declare an emergency and operate under the 2010 Budget; and 2) The city council has not passed a legal budget since the 2010 budget was passed making it the only legal budget in existence. No citation to law has been provided to support or under-gird either of these tenets.

The local citizen does not claim to be either objective or disinterested. In other words, the citizen is clearly take a side in the debate. Certainly, she is free, in her letter to the editor to express her opinion. She is allowed to take a side; either of them. We, however, must address a few incorrect statements made in her letter. Either she does not live in Helena-West Helena, has not been paying attention or, perhaps worse than either of those, she is intentionally misleading her readers.

She addressed deferred pay, COLA and education pay as problematic areas of the budget.

Deferred pay is pay that city employees receive immediately before Black Friday (Friday After Thanksgiving), the official start of the Christmas Shopping Season. This pay is money earned and held until the appointed time for lump sum payment in order to influence and positively affect the local economy. The City of Helena-West Helena typically expends around $215,000.00 in deferred pay. In 2008, the pay was calculated as follows:

at the greater of  four and six tenths percent (4.6%) or  $1,150.00 per full time employee, five percent  (5.0%) or $1,150.00
per elected official; and the greater of  two and three tenths percent (2.3%) or $600.00 per part-time employee.

The local citizen calls the deferred pay a "little known clause." This first appeared in the budget in 2007 and has been in the budgets every year since. This clause has been reported in the local press as well.

If the deferred pay clause is removed, the employees will be taking an approximate five (5%) pay cut. This article makes no comment on the virtue of either maintaining or cutting this portion of employee pay.

The budget for the last three years has included a cost of living adjustment (COLA) for all employees and elected officials. This adjustment was a mere $250.00 per year. The citizen mentions the annualized cost of $49,725 without any context. COLAs are granted by most government agencies on a regular basis. Helena-West Helena has not done so. As a compromise, the COLA is a flat $250.00 per year for all employees. Generally, COLAs are permanent and cumulative. For example, if a person earns $10,000 in year one and receives a COLA then her pay will be $10,250 for year one. If the COLA was permanent and cumulative, the person would start the next year off making $10,250 and the COLA would up her pay to $10,500. 

Such calculations do not take place in Helena-West Helena. The COLA is $250 flat. The Deferred Pay is also flat; non-increasing.

Because we do not have the print space to address all of the inaccuracies in the citizen's letter, we will address on last issue while stating there are other issues within the letter. 

Education Pay was discontinued in 2009 by a vote of the then current city council. That city council discontinued education pay while granting it to one of its own, Mr. John Washington. Therefore, this citizen is wrong and misinformed on the Education Pay issue. It should be pointed out that Mrs. Monica Davis and Mr. Larry Brown are college educated and Ms. Lakesia Chandler is attending college now. However, neither of them are receiving Education Pay because it has been discontinued.

One point she makes is perhaps extremely valid. She says "providing education incentive pay to aldermen and other elected officials does not guarantee a more educated city government . . ." Aldermen Joe St. Columbia is certainly lacking in a lot of areas and the people of Ward Two elected him over an outstanding and well educated candidate. St. Columbia is the same guy who brought television cameras to Helena in search of "Monkeys Running the Zoo." Generally speaking, Ward Two, the wealthiest ward of the city, has a greater number of potential candidates from which to choose.

In a late breaking revelation, we have been informed that the author of this letter, Ms. Ann Marie Zito (click link to see her letter), is actually the wife of the Phillips County Republican Party Chair, Mr. Allen Martin. He succeeded Mark Price as the Chief of Staff for the City of Helena-West Helena. Mr. Allen Martin is Mayor Arnell Willis's right hand man. Each of the budgets have proposed to pay him less in salary than he and Mayor Willis wants him to be paid. The base pay for his position is about $18,000. The mayor's budget proposed to pay Martin $37,000.00. Perhaps the source of the Ms. Zito's discontentment is a desire for a new large diamond ring or a new luxury car.

No comments:

Post a Comment