Pulaski County employees who transfer from certain jobs to lower-paying ones will no longer be able to keep the previous jobs' higher salaries under a county personnel-policy amendment approved Tuesday night by the Quorum Court.
The amendment was approved 10-3, with the prevailing justices of the peace saying they thought the change was necessary to stop such transfers in the future.
Three justices of the peace opposed the amendment, saying the policy change hadn't been studied enough and was a knee-jerk reaction to a single occurrence.
"It happened two months ago, and all the sudden we're ready to make changes?" said Justice of the Peace Teresa Coney, D-Little Rock, after the meeting. "I think we needed some time on it."
Justice of the Peace Donna Massey, D-Little Rock, said the policy change was a step toward equitable pay among employees and protecting county money.
"That's what we're here for," Massey said.
The amendment was drafted in reaction to the transfer of former County Attorney Amanda Mitchell to a senior appraiser/analyst position in County Assessor Janet Troutman Ward's office in January. Mitchell earned $97,798.74 as county attorney and continues to earn that amount as a senior appraiser/analyst although most senior appraiser/analysts earn from $52,000 to $56,000 annually.
Mitchell left her job as county attorney without giving notice amid tension with County Judge Barry Hyde over who would represent the county assessor's office in appeals of a county court decision issued by Hyde. Her departure caught the attention of justices of the peace, including Massey, who learned from Hyde that Mitchell would continue to make the same amount of money in the county assessor's office.
Massey called a special meeting of the Budget Committee to discuss the matter in February, and the committee voted to adjourn rather than discuss the topic further. After that meeting, some justices of the peace said they thought that the Budget Committee would be unable to do anything about Mitchell's transfer or about the personnel policy.
This month, Justice of the Peace Doug Reed, R-Roland, sponsored, along with Massey and Justice of the Peace Phil Stowers, R-Maumelle, the amendment changing the personnel policy.
The county's personnel policy has allowed anyone in an "unclassified" job that has no pay range to transfer, without losing any salary, to a "classified" job that has a pay range.
The amendment that passed Tuesday strikes that section of the policy and adds language that limits a person's salary to 10 percent more than the published salary range if the person is "demoted voluntarily, at the initiation of the employee, or involuntarily, at the discretion of the elected official or department head." In addition, after a demotion, a person's pay must be reduced by at least 2 percent from his previous salary.
Justice of the Peace Curtis Keith, D-Mabelvale, asked Tuesday night how those percentages were determined and if they were arbitrary.
County Attorney Adam Fogleman said he drafted the ordinance with the assistance of the county Human Resources Department and input from some justices of the peace but that the Quorum Court should decide whether those percentages were fair.
"I acknowledge the fact that we need to do something," Keith said, later adding he wanted to make sure the amendment was sound and would prevent such pay transfers from ever occurring again.
Keith, Coney and Justice of the Peace Julie Blackwood voted against the amendment. Blackwood expressed concern over how the policy would affect people who were demoted before retirement to make way for new appointees.
Under the personnel policy, people demoted involuntarily may earn less salary, but their retirement benefits are not affected.
Fogleman said retirement benefits for county employees -- administered through the Arkansas Public Employees Retirement System -- are based on the three highest-earning years a person served in government.
Voting for the amendment were Reed; Massey; Stowers; Kathy Lewison, D-Little Rock; Lillie McMullen, D-Little Rock; Judy Green, D-Little Rock; Rev. Robert Green Sr., D-McAlmont; Aaron Robinson, R-Jacksonville; Paul Elliott, R-Maumelle; and Staci Medlock, D-North Little Rock.
Justices of the Peace Tyler Denton, D-Little Rock, and Luke McCoy, R-Sherwood, were absent from the meeting.
"I feel that we would be derelict in our duty to fail to take action over this seeming loophole," Stowers said, urging passage of the amendment.
"This is not about politics or personality," he added.
Robinson noted that Hyde's personnel-policy task force may review the changes the Quorum Court made Tuesday night.
Hyde, who named the members of his task force last week, said the task force should not consider the changes made Tuesday night because the Quorum Court has already approved them. The task force will make recommendations for personnel-policy changes to the Quorum Court, which will consider whether to amend the personnel policy further.
"I expect they'll take this issue as a recently voted ordinance," Hyde said.
"I don't think it's fair to put contentious items ... before them," he added.
The task force members are Sherry Williams, a retired senior vice president of AgHeritage Farm Credit Services who will serve as chairman; Bryson Green, human resources director at Central Arkansas Radiation Therapy Institute; Steve Kelly, chief deputy in the Pulaski County circuit/county clerk's office; Mara Malcolm, administrator in the 6th Judicial Circuit Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley's office; Mary Ann Zakrzewski, director of Pulaski County human resources; Debbye Wolter, chief administrator in Pulaski County Treasurer Debra Buckner's office; and Massey and Stowers.
Mitchell's transfer from the unclassified county attorney position to the lower-paid classified position was not the first such transfer in the county.
The transfer has prompted the county assessor's office to request a reorganization of staffing and job descriptions by the Human Resources Department for a few of the office's highest-paid employees into official management positions to reflect the work they are doing, said Joe D. Thompson, chief administrator for the assessor's office.
Mitchell would be director of personal property under such a reorganization. Karla Hutchens, the county attorney before Mitchell, would become director of operations instead of community liaison; and Sam Walker would continue in his role as director of reappraisals to round out the office's three director positions below Thompson and Troutman Ward.
The personnel-policy change approved Tuesday night will not apply to any current county salaries, including Mitchell's.
Metro on 03/23/2016
Print Headline: JPs alter personnel policy so job changers can't keep old, higher pay