Albany City Manager James Taylor was recently given a $15,000 annual raise by the Albany City Commission, sparking outrage from city employees. (Herald file photo)
ALBANY — The caller was angry, and he minced no words in registering his complaint.
“Morale here has plummeted since folks found out the city manager was getting a $15,000 raise,” the caller, who asked that his name not be used for fear of reprisal, said. “You take into consideration the City Commission just voted themselves a $2,000 raise, city employees haven’t gotten one in six or seven years, and now the city manager gets a $15,000 raise and 10 more vacation days? We feel like this is just another slap in the face.
“Pretty much the entire police department would go out on strike right now if it was legal. And they’re already having trouble retaining personnel.”
The uproar surrounding the commission’s vote at its Feb. 25 business meeting to give City Manager James Taylor the aforementioned pay increase and more vacation days has grown exponentially among city employees since it was announced. But city commissioners, who OK’d the raise without comment at the business meeting, sought Tuesday morning at their work session to reassure employees that the raise given Taylor was part of a plan to increase salaries for all city workers.
Ward IV Commissioner Roger Marietta brought up the salary dispute, and his colleagues quickly weighed in.
“I want to go on the record letting the people of Albany know that James Taylor said he would have no part of any raise if all city employees did not get one as well,” District III Commissioner B.J. Fletcher said.
Fletcher was part of a committee that also included Ward V and VI commissioners Bob Langstaff and Tommie Postell that recommended salary increases for all employees and an increase for Taylor that would bring his compensation in line with other comparably sized municipalities.
“I don’t know where this so-called study that was reported by one (television) media outlet came from saying the officials in Atlanta and Macon who do what Mr. Taylor does for us are paid less than he is, but it is absolutely wrong,” Fletcher said after the commission meeting. “We compared our city manager’s salary to 11 communities, and his was lower than all 11. And what a lot of people aren’t considering is that Mr. Taylor has also been in charge of the Water, Gas & Light Commission since last year.
“We’ve put a lot on him, and he hasn’t complained. He deserves a salary increase. Plus he’s made it clear that he plans to leave soon, and I can guarantee you we would not be able to bring in a quality replacement at the salary he’s getting now. Sometimes you have to stop and realize you get what you pay for.”
Taylor, who angrily said Tuesday he would not accept the pay raise because of the furor that had sprung up following the commission vote, noted that his salary is “$145,000 — as of this morning.” Fletcher said the committee that recommended raising Taylor’s pay had suggested increasing it by “as much as $40,000” but the city manager insisted that that was too big of an increase.
Mayor Dorothy Hubbard, who said during a recent interview with The Herald that increasing city employee salaries is one of her priorities for the coming year, noted that talk of employee pay raises is typically a “budget matter” that is discussed for a new fiscal year (which starts July 1). She said the board was justified in increasing Taylor’s salary now because he was recently reappointed for a new two-year term.
“(The salary increase) was actually part of the evaluation process (that led to the reappointment),” Hubbard said. “Our city manager’s pay is nowhere in line with other cities. It’s really, really low.”
One city official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the uproar over Taylor’s pay increase among city employees and some citizens in the community was the result of the commission “botching the way they made it public.”
“They didn’t discuss it in a public forum, didn’t bring it up during any work session,” the official said. “Then, when they took the vote at the night meeting, they didn’t mention that Mr. Taylor had said he wouldn’t accept a pay increase unless all city employees got one. They just offered a motion, seconded it and took the vote. Then, when it was reported, all hell broke loose.
“I don’t want it to sound like I’m sucking up to Mr. Taylor, but he’s worked too hard and has sacrificed too much to deserve the kind of negative comments some in the community are making. He could have left here and retired to a life of luxury a while ago, but he chose to stay on to tackle some of the problems that the city is dealing with. Trust me, without him reigning in some of these rogue commissioners, there’s no telling what kind of mess the city would be in right now.”
Postell confirmed that all talk of increased compensation for city employees included all employees, not just Taylor or any other specific individual or group.
“We are going to give our employees a raise, all 1,100 of them,” Postell said.
Meanwhile, city employees unaware of such a plan, continue to voice their objections.
“I know of no nicer or harder-working man than James Taylor,” one said Monday. “But it’s hard for those of us who are struggling to get by to have faith in a commission that tells us there’s no money then gives out a big raise for the employee making the most money.”