Summit’s town council set out on the path of good intentions when they approved 10% pay raises for most town employees last month but learned where that leads to in an explosive meeting Tuesday.
Tempers flared when council members said they never authorized a raise for Town Clerk Deborah Price, who characterized her exclusion as unfair and prejudicial.
The contention began when Councilwoman Pauline Monley said she wanted to table approving the minutes of a September budget meeting in which the council settled on the raises, saying they don’t reflect the board’s wishes because Price was incorrectly included in the pay package.
Monley, who had initially proposed 30% across-the-board pay raises before the council dropped them down to 10%, said they were for police officers, public works employees and deputy clerks, excluding Price and Police Chief Kenny Cotton.
“We said no head of the department would get a raise until the next six months,” Monley said.
Price, a former deputy clerk who took over the clerk’s job in December, said she never received additional pay despite the promotion and Mayor Percy Robinson had promised her more money.
“I told her during the budget year that I wanted to move her up to $40,000,” the mayor said.
But Monley said her compensation is determined by the board.
“I said that when we were talking about the 30% that no head of a department was going to get a raise,” she said.
Price said that would make her compensation — still at her former deputy clerk’s rate — unfair based on her workload.
“Is it my understanding that the two clerks are going to make more money than the town clerk, the woman who handles every legal document?” Price said.
“Yes,” Monley shouted back.
Price said the board approved the budget as written, including her raise.
“I was not told to take that out when you had all of the handouts. … The budget you approved was sitting in there,” she said.
Price took the exclusion as a reflection on the council’s view of her job performance.
“So you don’t think I’m doing a good enough job?” Price said.
“No!” Monley said.
Robinson appealed for calm, which was briefly maintained.
Councilman Lester Jones said he had no problem with raising Price’s pay if the money’s already in the budget, but the board should have been made aware of what happened.
CPA Hal Holloway, who helps prepare the town’s budget, said he remembered Price asking about her pay during the budget meeting.
“I do recall that she spoke up at that point in time,” he said.
“We said not to do it,” Monley said.
Price wanted to know why.
“I would still like the answer why the two clerks who work below me are making more money than me,” she said. “Why do I not deserve the equal pay that everybody else has? Is it because I’m a white woman?”
“Don’t even go there,” Monley said.
Police Chief Kenny Cotton offered a solution: “Give all the department heads raises.”
But Councilman Joe Lewis said that’s not what the board agreed on.
“We said we would not give the department heads (raises) until six months” into the budget year, he said.
Holloway said the town clerk’s job is important and Price had been doing it well.
“Whatever you do, you’ve got to have somebody competent in there doing this,” he said. “If you overspend the budget and it’s not remedied by a budget amendment, you as the board members are responsible for that.
“She’s had to call me numerous times about things she’s found me that hadn’t been done or needed to be done. She’s done a very good job.”
Price, who also organizes the town’s Smokin’ on the Tracks barbecue festival, was hired as deputy clerk seven years ago and took over after former clerk Pat Whittington resigned. Price said she had little training and had to learn the job on her own.
“Sometimes I don’t get a lunch break because I sit there at that computer all day doing this job,” she said, suggesting that council members aren’t aware of the job’s complexities.
Councilman Joe Lewis took issue with the comment, saying it implied ignorance on the board.
Price said the mayor didn’t direct her to take her pay increase out of the budget, which the board approved.
“I simply was not told to take that figure out … since I was told my salary as going to go up by somebody above my head,” Price said. “Hell, I’m making less now than some of the street workers.”
Monley called that remark disrespectful.
Price noted that a public works employee who was promoted to oversee street repairs had multiple pay increases over the past year. Monley said that was because he received a promotion. Price said that she also was promoted, but without the extra compensation.
Lewis asked Holloway for an updated spending analysis to see if the town could afford raises for Price and Cotton as well. “I’m trying to solve this thing,” he said.
But Robinson said amending the budget to adjust salaries so soon after it was adopted is generally seen as a red flag by auditors.
“You don’t want to go back and amend the budget. … It doesn’t look good,” he said
Monley then proposed giving Cotton $50,000 a year, a $5,000 increase.
Taking notes, Price said, “the chief is getting 50? And you’re going to give me what?”
“We’re going to have to discuss that as a board,” Monley said.