A Word from Commissioner Curtis Gibson
Standing Up for the "Little People"
Last updated 1/10/2021 at 11:33am
Since I became a Lake Wales City Commissioner in May of 2017 I have always fought for the little people.
This summer of 2019 I came up with a concept that would give lower paid city employees a higher percentage increase in their pay. What the city manager was introducing was a 3 percent raise across the board that amounted to just $609 for the city's lowest paid full-time employee, but it would give the highest paid employee, not counting the city manager, an increase of $3,261.
My concept recommended graduated raises of 3 to 5 percent for 158 employees, while giving 1.5 percent raises to the 31 employees making over $60,000 per year. Reducing the top administrator raises from the proposed 3 percent to 1.5 percent would free up $35,301 to distribute among lower paid employees. It would have cost the city only an extra $11,233 to implement this graduated plan, but I believe it would have gone a long way toward demonstrating to all employees that we value them.
I clearly stated I was only offering a concept and that I understood the actual implementation would be up to City Manager Ken Fields and staff. Other commissioners seemed interested in the concept. Instead of a graduated plan the city manager included 2 percent across the board raises in the budget we adopted in September.
After our budget was adopted, and with no input from commissioners, the city manager promoted department heads and gave the top 11 employees not only the 2 percent, but substantially more. To me this was a slap in the face.
I asked the city manager to show me his plan in writing and he told me he would rather just tell me in person. I wanted to see where the funds were coming from. I was told if I don't like something he does I should just note it on his evaluation. That was basically telling me he doesn't care what commissioners think and he's going to do what he wants.
Salary figures obtained from human resources showed those top 11 employees in October were making 3.5 to 12.6 percent more than they had been making in July; their pay increases ranged from $3,134 to $10,061. The city manager said he was establishing equity among department heads, bringing nine of them up to tiers of $90,000, $98,000, $110,000 or $112,500.
As we undertake our 10-year charter review in 2020, I would like the committee to take a close look at the powers and duties of the commission and city manager. I believe our citizens hold commissioners accountable for spending decisions arbitrarily made by the city manager. After ignoring my repeated requests for more details for nearly a month the city manager finally emailed me, saying the 11 raises would cost an extra $32,600 for the year and be funded mostly through the general fund, with some coming from the CRA trust fund, the utility fund and the library fund.
While the charter says the city manager sets salaries, our code of ordinances says the city manager is expected to bring salary ranges to the commission at budget time, after doing a comparative analysis. Three of the raises given on Oct. 1 are actually above the range approved two weeks earlier in the budget. Until the commission votes to adjust the range those employees can only be paid the increase as a lump sum, not part of their base salary.
The city manager did promise that next year he will work to give lower paid employees a higher increase, and I intend to make sure that he keeps his word. If the city manager keeps favoring the top administrators I believe it will negatively impact employee morale.
I refuse to sit back and let this go by. I will continue to fight for what's right and not be afraid to speak out.