By Bill Robinson
The Richmond City Commission split 3-2 Tuesday afternoon in a vote not to override City Manager Jimmy Howard’s decision changing the work schedule of the city’s vehicle maintenance garage.
Commissioners Donna Baird and Robert Blythe joined Mayor Jim Barnes in upholding the city manager’s decision. First-term Commissioners Laura King and Jim Newby voted to override Howard.
About a year earlier, the city manager had directed the garage work from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. instead of the previous hours of 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. During the hot summer months, however, the garage had returned to the earlier schedule to take advantage of the cooler morning hours.
The issue had been discussed at the commission’s Jan. 15 work session and Jan. 22 regular session.
Greg King, who’s in charge of the maintenance garage, spoke at both meetings saying he believed the later schedule was inconvenient for the police department, leading to postponement of vehicle maintenance. Also, when departments that begin their days at 7 a.m. need help starting a vehicle, they must wait until the maintenance crew starts work, he said.
At the Jan. 22 meeting, Police Chief Larry Brock said his department was not neglecting vehicle maintenance. They are inspected regularly, he said, and his officers file monthly reports that include number of miles driven.
“We have no complaints,” Brock said. “We get our vehicles down there (to the maintenance garage) whenever they need it.”
Laura King, who asked Greg King to discuss the issue for the public on Jan. 22, forced a vote Tuesday.
The issue was on the meeting’s initial agenda but was crossed out after King said she was led to believe votes could not be taken during work sessions.
However, she moved the issue be put to a vote after an order on the agenda raising the pay of Human Resource Director Jessica Masters was voted on.
After Newby seconded King’s motion, Baird asked, “Is that something we can do?”
“We can do anything we want,” King replied.
Asked for an opinion, City Attorney Garrett Fowles said setting work schedules was normally the city manager’s responsibility, but the commission has the power to override his decisions.
Barnes said the commission should be cautious about making decisions that under the city manager/commission form of municipal government are normally left to the city manager.
“We can’t be having orders (voted on) every time we disagree with a decision by the city manager,” the mayor said.
When the roll was called on King’s motion, she and Newby voted in favor, with Baird voting “no” and commenting she would not override the city manager on such matters.
With everyone expecting Barnes also would vote against the motion, the room grew quiet as Blythe’s name was called. The silence intensified as Blythe paused for several seconds before speaking.
He had been sitting in the room when the city manager first informed the commission he was changing the maintenance garage’s schedule, Blythe said.
“I won’t go against Mr. Howard,” he said, and then cast a “no” vote.
Barnes said he was opposed to voting on issues during a work session except on urgent matters.
Acting to raise Masters’ salary was urgent, the city manager said.
“I know you don’t want to (vote in a work session) and don’t like to, but I’m asking you to,” Howard said.
The human resource director, who was hired in January 2012 at a salary of $40,000, had been offered a new job that she had to accept or reject before the commission’s Feb. 12 meeting, the city manager said.
The proposed order would raise Masters’ salary to $50,000. According to the Kentucky League of Cities, the position’s salary range for cities from 20,000 to 99,000 population was $32,760 to $89,904, the order noted. Since Masters was hired, the order also stated, the city’s payroll function, including supervision of two employees, had been transferred from the finance office to the human resources office.
“If we lose (Masters), we probably can’t replace her with someone as good as she is,” the mayor said, adding she was underpaid compared to comparable staff with other cities.
The same could be said for most other Richmond employees, Laura King commented.
Prior to the meeting, commission members had been provided with a list of municipal salaries furnished by the League of Cities.
Blythe moved, and Baird seconded, to end discussion and put the issue to a vote, and all five commissioners agreed. They then all voted in favor of giving Masters the raise.
These were the only two issues brought to a vote Tuesday. For a report on other issues discussed Tuesday, including restoration of city employees’ longevity pay, reopening of Fire Station No. 5 off Duncannon Lane and televising of commission work sessions, see Thursday’s Richmond Register.
Bill Robinson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 624-6690.