Samantha Scoles

Samantha Scoles, chair of the city's Employee and Community Relations Committee, leads a discussion on compensation during the Feb. 10, 2020, council meeting.

MOUNT VERNON — City council members spent much of their time Monday night discussing and adjusting salaries for the assistant law director, police chief, and safety-service director, bringing them more in line with experience and years of service.

The city administration initially proposed $86,682 for the police chief, equal to the fire chief's compensation. Historically, the two positions have paid the same rate. Council members adjusted Police Chief Robert Morgan's compensation to $79,690 to reflect his first year as chief. Comparatively, Fire Chief Chad Christopher has seven years in his position.

Similarly, council adjusted Richard Dzik's compensation from $86,095 to $83,995 to reflect his first year as safety-service director.

“This is a way that we can keep that base pay where it is until we get longevity in those positions,” said Council Member Samantha Scoles, chair of the Employee and Community Relations Committee.

The majority of the discussion centered on a proposed increase for Assistant Law Director Brittany Whitney. At council's Jan. 13 meeting, Law Director Rob Broeren requested $78,117 for Whitney. That includes the 2.5 percent increase other city employees received plus $10,000 for her increased responsibilities as director of the city's Domestic Violence Unit.

Since then, Broeren has requested council to approve hiring an additional attorney at a salary of around $50,000. Based on discussion in council's budget meeting, several council members thought that the new attorney would relieve some of Whitney's caseload, thus the additional $10,000 is not necessary.

However, Broeren said that while Whitney will get some relief, the new attorney will free up Broeren so that he can do the necessary civil work such as contract and engineering reviews.

“I strongly ask you to stay with the $10,000 given the level of leadership she's shown with domestic violence,” he told council. “I think to not do this at this point, it sends the wrong signal.”

Compared to total compensation for several nearby law director offices, Mount Vernon's is high. Council members Tanner Salyers and Tammy Woods said that without knowing responsibilities and caseload, such comparisons are not valid.

Noting that Whitney “obviously stepped up to the plate” and took on additional responsibilities, Woods said that $10,000 is a “tough bite to swallow.” Council Member Julia Warga agreed.

Salyers said that council was looking at things backward.

“We're giving her a raise because of what she's done, not what she's going to do,” he said. “In my opinion, the $10,000, that we are already saving in other places, I don't know what we are squabbling about.”

Councilwoman Janis Seavolt's sticking point was referring to the $10,000 as a raise when it stemmed from Whitney's position and responsibilities as director of the Domestic Violence Unit.

Council ultimately agreed to a salary of $68,117 plus a $5,000 stipend for Whitney's responsibilities as director of the DVU. The stipend is a separate line item. If Whitney leaves city employment, the stipend will stay attached to the director's position, not the assistant law director position.

Council agreed to revisit the issue in six months after a new attorney is hired and the caseload distribution is more concrete. Council asked Broeren to supply such documentation.

In other business, council:

  • Approved renewal of a three-year contract between the city and the Knox County General Health District, aka Knox Public Health (formerly the Knox County Health Department). The city will pay the health district $56,650 in 2020, $58,350 in 2021, and $60,100 in 2022.
  • Approved membership in the Regional Planning Commission at $4,175 for 2020. City representation includes Councilman Mike Hillier and Scoles (alternate), city council; Mayor Matt Starr, city planning commission; Ed Connell and Kyle Theibert, citizen representatives; and Lacie Blankenhorn, city engineering department, alternate for Starr, Connell, and Theibert.
  • Approved additional appropriations for 2020. Of the $8.678 million general fund, $3.159 million is appropriated for roads and bridges.
  • Approved appointments of Anthony Smith to the library board and Katie Delozier as alternate to the Board of Property Maintenance Appeals
  • Approved appropriations and bill payment
  • Authorized the sale of equipment
  • Waived the three readings and approved as an emergency an agreement with Dominion Energy Solutions for the gas aggregate program. Residents will receive a letter (with the city logo and mayor's signature for verification of authenticity) regarding the change in energy providers. Residents are automatically enrolled in the program unless they opt out. Residents who have previously opted out will not receive a letter.
  • Approved compensation for municipal court's probation officers, clerk of court, and assistant clerk of court, and the property maintenance enforcement officer
  • Gave a first reading to an ordinance fixing the number of city employees. The number includes temporarily adding one supervisor and two officers in the police department to allow for crossover when filling vacant positions. On Sept. 30, the count will revert to nine supervisors and 20 officers.

Council also heard updates from County Health Commissioner Julie Miller and Property Maintenance Enforcement Officer Greg Bemiller. With the number of violations down 21 percent, Bemiller said the penalties council enacted last year are making a difference.

Following the legislative session, council went into executive session to discuss acquisition of property. Council took no action.

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