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More on today’s editorial about the police chief’s pay raise

February 23, 2010

In today’s editorial, we criticized the Owensboro City Commission for pushing for a 16 percent pay raise for Police Chief Glenn Skeens during a time when the city faces financial challenges as do the businesses that propel the local economy.

Selectively awarding such a generous pay raise for the chief for not greater reason than to make his salary equal to what the fire chief is making is short-sighted and lacks business sense taxpayers expect from their elected leaders.

I wanted to include some additional information and points that I found while working on the editorial.

As the editorial noted, Fire Chief Steve Mitchell‘s starting salary of $102,651 was a marked increase from what Ronnie Heep, the chief he replaced, was making when he retired. Heep, who had been at the department for more than 30 years, was making $91,793 at the time of his retirement in 2008.

On the police side, Chief Glenn Skeens started as chief in 2007 with a salary of $87,531 when he was selected to replace John Kazlauskas, who had more than 40 years under his belt when he retired in 2007. Kazlauskas is now a member of the City Commission, and was making $93,141 at the time of his retirement.

So the combined salaries of the police and fire chiefs has risen from roughly $180,000 in 2007 to about $212,000 currently – more than $30,000. If those increases are based on performance, such an increase seems more justified, but increasing one salary to equalize it with the other just doesn’t make sense.

The City Commission at the time Mitchell was hired included David Johnson and Candance Brake, two of the commissioners that pushed for the police chief’s pay hike to equalize his pay with that of the fire chief.

Some have asked why this issue is being raised now, and not at the time Mitchell’s salary was set and the pay gap was created. That’s a good question, and is explained in part by the duties the commission has when hiring city employees.

The City Commission votes on each city hiring decision, but is asked to decide whether to hire someone, not what they should be paid. That decision is left to top staff members, including the city manager, who oversees all city operations. So while the commission certainly had access to the information about what Mitchell was to be paid, those particulars weren’t decided by the commission when the voted to hire him.

Any thoughts about the issue?

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2 Comments
  1. Confused Citizen permalink
    February 23, 2010 11:00 pm

    It seems to me that there is no set of standards for hiring practices and for pay increases. At one point, the city followed civil service rules when hiring and promoting people. With the current leadership, they seem to pick and choose when they want to follow civil service rules. They circumvent civil rules to make some hires, but allow these hires to receive the same benefits as a civil service employee. How does that work??? Then other positions are required to follow the civil service hiring rules and testing policies. How are these decisions made?

    Seems like cronyism to me. Isn’t that why civil service was put in place at the city to begin with – to stop these hiring / promotion practices??

    At what point is government leadership held accountable for not putting their constituents interests first over their own personal interests??

  2. OMU Dude permalink
    February 25, 2010 6:37 pm

    I agree totally with your concerns. There is never a good time for a public entity to raise costs without adding benefits to its customers (taxpayers). During this economic downturn – and amid the city cutting other costs – is an especially bad time. Like any business, their only way to pay for increased costs is to pass it on to their customers. But unlike other businesses, their customers don’t have any choice. The City of Owensboro will have to raise their tax rates to pay for this raise. And you are correct in saying this looked much like a $15000 per year gift to the police chief.

    I am, however, disappointed that the M-I didn’t pick up on a similar, but much larger, situation in July 2008. At that time, OMU had just named Stan Conn its new General Manager. Conn had been the Director of the power plant since the early 1990’s. One of his first acts as General Manager was to give a $16000 per year raise to each of four of his friends (the department managers) at the power plant. As has been reported extensively in the M-I since that time, OMU has raised its electric rates about 20%. Conn managed to slip this gift to his friends through before the heat over the rate increase hit. After going for the rate increase, Conn announced that OMU employees would not receive the usual 2% to 3% annual cost of living wage increase. In the interest of full disclosure, yes, I am an OMU employee. And no, I am not one of the four lucky ones to get a huge raise. So while these four received a 25% raise, the rest of us haven’t had a raise in almost two years.

    OMU’s ratepayers deserve for the M-I to look into this situation and report on it. When you do, you will find numerous examples of wasted ratepayer’s dollars. Be sure to ask about the $6000 office chairs one of these same guys at the power plant just bought. Again, I agree totally that the police chief’s raise is an outrage, but the same type of cronyism and under the table actions at OMU cost more than four times the amount each year.

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