The Claremore City Council discussed a different type of agenda item Monday as Councilor Brandon Smith addressed the issue of transparency in government.
The item became an issue after City Manager Daryl Golbek approved a $4,000 raise for a department head after the city council had limited employee raises just a few weeks prior.
“I do not want anyone to assume that anything illegal or improper has gone on in the city government, but I have some concerns,” Smith said.
The goal is to have an open discussion about transparency, he added.
The employee presented Golbek with an email in which the employee stated that another company had made an offer of employment to her. The employee then asked Golbek to meet the pay increase that was offered by that company.
Golbek was provided with this request on a Friday and the employee stated she needed to know by Monday.
This employee serves as a department head and plays a critical role in city manager search, according to city officials. That issue combined with the limited time frame for a response made the issue more urgent, according to city staff.
The short notice provided by the employee, left Golbek to make the decision without consulting the council, according to Golbek.
The council took issue with the decision, as it was one of many different examples provided of last minute decisions that have occurred during the change in city managers.
The discussion became very heated as Smith and the council pressed the issue with city staff.
“The thing that I don’t understand is that in this particular situation we knew late of Friday and had to make a decision by Monday, the situation was critical,” Finance Director Ruby Maline said. “Where do you want to draw the line on these critical decisions.”
The city manager needs guidance, we have never been told that we cannot make decisions on our staff, Golbek said.
“Brandon, if you don’t trust me I can step down tonight and don’t have an issue doing that,” Golbek said.
“In the budget hearing, we did give you direction on the pay increases,” Smith said. “It was a pretty clear cut message.”
“Our position is that raises are given at budget time,” Councilor Don Purkey said.
Golbek explained that city officials need some discretion.
“There are some times you can’t just limit it with what happens at the first of the year,” Maline said.
“My concern is that if salaries were such an issue at the time we set the budget and there was no room at the time, I would have appreciate a heads up on the issue,” Councilor Bill Flanagan said.
“I think the criticism is fair,” Councilor Mark Lepak said.
Lepak agreed that the city manager needs some flexibility but that some hot issues need to be addressed with the council.
A primary concern voiced by the council was that decisions would be made last minute when there is a change in the city manager position or
I always thought the perception is that maybe the city staff is not being completely honest with us,”
The latest issue came after the council denied 11 employees significant raises during the budget process. Then about a month later one individual was given approximately a 10 percent raise after receiving a raise one-month prior.
“That concerns me, nothing illegal was done, and nothing wrong was done. The perception is that the council comes forward and says this is our wishes and yet the moment we take our eyes of the ball something different happens,” Smith said.
When questioned about the issue city officials stated “they [the employee] were a key personnel at a tough time for the city and we did not want to disrupt city operations.”
“Nobody at this table, the elected officials, knew what had happened,” Smith said.
The council’s only recourse is to review the position and determine if the employee actually deserved the pay increase.
Purkey added, “pay increase should have been done at budget time.”
The council needs to approve all salaries during the budget process.
“We don’t want to find that personnel costs are out of control,” Purkey said. “The council should have control over all spending.”
According to Maline, “What we did is make a change in a line item to accommodate the pay change. We do not build a cushion into the budget.”
To make the salary change effective another cut was made in the department from another budget item, she said.
The council could take back the authority to limit budget changes and could oversee the budget line by line, according to Flanagan.
“There is a little bit of trust here, we need to make sure we know what is going on here,” Flanagan said.