Menlo Park council OKs salary hike for city staff | December 18, 2013 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


News - December 18, 2013

Menlo Park council OKs salary hike for city staff

by Sandy Brundage

'Twas a long winter's night as the Menlo Park City Council met on Dec. 10, deciding much and debating more, and in some cases the outcome was a bit of a surprise.

The proposed contract with the approximately 34 city managers and supervisors represented by the American Federation of State, Municipal and City Employees earned a lengthy discussion. The contract includes a 4.5 percent salary increase and additional health benefits along with other modifications, such as the loss of four floating holiday days.

Human Resources Director Gina Donnelly told the council that a survey showed that salary ranges for Menlo Park staff rank near the bottom of other Peninsula cities. Recruiting efforts have sometimes come up dry, she said, with a recent open position having to go through more than one cycle of searching for a new employee, which ends up costing the city even more money.

Being at the bottom of the pay scale "is certainly a factor" in losing people, Ms. Donnelly commented.

The council, which negotiated the contract in a series of closed sessions during the past year, ended up voting 4-1 to adopt it.

While saying he "wholeheartedly agreed" that staff needed raises, Mayor Ray Mueller voted against the proposed contract. He later told the Almanac that the total 7.1 percent compensation increase was larger than he's comfortable with, and he "would have preferred to see the increase staggered over the life of the contract. I also would have preferred more of the increases put into (non-pension related) compensation."

Councilwoman Kirsten Keith noted that they tried to identify non-pension related increases, which led to the bump in health benefits, but that having "salaries so far below other cities" also needed to be addressed, after much debate in closed session.

In response to public criticism that Menlo Park has too many employees for a city of its size, City Manager Alex McIntyre ran through a list of some services it provides that other municipalities don't, such as a childcare center; community centers in two locations; and a library system managed independently from the county's.

As the discussion continued, eventually council members asked what would happen should they vote against approving the contract or delay the matter to another night.

City Attorney Bill McClure and Ms. Donnelly answered that, hypothetically, the union could make allegations of bad faith negotiations, although it was not a given that they would do so.

A separate agenda item, regarding salary ranges and compensation policies for approximately 19 non-union employees, mainly department heads, division heads and human resources personnel, ended with a unanimous 5-0 approval by the council. The policy allows Mr. McIntyre to approve raises within a given salary range and allot one-time bonuses of $5,000. However, the council deleted a provision that would have allowed the city manager to revise the compensation system.