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Council Investigates Cost of City Firings

Severance payouts to top city officials totaled about $955,000, Roberts reported to a council committee last week. But the city had saved $814,000 on positions remaining unfilled for the last 20 weeks, so the net cost to the city was about $140,500.

"That's a pretty close-to-accurate example of what we're talking about," Roberts said, explaining that his report was compiled from averages and estimates, rather than actual severance figures. He also didn't factor in the pay given to interim directors.

The figures presented, Roberts added, were "not actual data, it's just based on actual data."

That answer didn't seem to sit well with the committee.

Councilwoman Ellen Robertson, the committee chairwoman, looked quizzical. "This is not really the information that we asked for," she interjected.

The administration was reluctant to release the actual amounts each individual received, Roberts said. Although it was a matter of public record, Roberts told a reporter later, "It's tacky to discuss that in a public forum."

Wilder has made no secret of his desire to replace the city's top management. As of Oct. 28, seven department director positions were being filled by interim directors because of resignations or firings. The departments lacking directors include public utilities, justice services, budget, parks and recreation, community development, procurement and finance. The city assessor and auditor, who report to City Council, not the mayor, also recently stepped down.

An average director, according to Roberts' calculations, served a little more than four years, made about $109,000 annually and would have received $52,608 upon departing: $38,095 as a "salary payout" and $14,512 in unused vacation time.

Roberts told the council committee that the theoretical total of departed officials was 20: three deputy chief administrative officers, 12 department directors and six deputy directors.

When asked how much the city might spend to replace all these employees, on advertising and interviewing applicants, Roberts said the cost was "minimal," in the "several thousands." Moreover, he said, the city has saved more money by eliminating three director positions.

Robertson was not satisfied with the report, she said. She called the city "evasive," and says the assertion that the city spent only a net $140,000 "is probably kind of crazy." She'll take the request for real figures to the council's finance committee, she said.

Reached on Monday, Wilder lambasted City Council for wasting valuable staff time with such "innocuous inquisitions."

"I don't have time to fool around with this nonsense," the mayor said. "Council has left me, this administration, with $14 million dollars to find. That's real. That's not hypothetical." — Melissa Scott Sinclair

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