Only one city salary out of line with others Nearby communities pay similar rates for jobs except public information director

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 27, 2014

SALISBURY — Salaries for the city’s top 12 employees are pretty much in line with salaries for their counterparts in nearby communities, with one exception.
Salisbury’s former Public Information Director Elaney Hasselmann was making about $12,600 more per year than the next highest paid communications officer in the Post’s comparison with Concord, Kannapolis, Mooresville, Statesville and Albemarle.
Hasselmann’s salary also was $10,464 more than the maximum salary in her pay grade. Her position was graded 22 with a top salary of $73,381, but Hasselmann was making $83,845 when she quit last month.
The Post looked at the salaries of Salisbury’s management team, which includes a dozen city administrators. Not every city in the comparison has an equivalent position, but in general, Salisbury’s salaries were the second, third or fourth highest.
Salisbury and Mooresville tied for third by population in the survey, with about 33,000 residents each. Concord and Kannapolis are larger, and Statesville and Albemarle are smaller.
Salaries for Salisbury’s management team became an issue in June after the Post learned that former City Manager Doug Paris had given three members of his management team raises of more than $13,000 last summer during a reorganization that was not announced to the public or to City Council.
Hasselmann’s raises totaled more than $38,000 from 2011 to 2013 after Paris increased her salary repeatedly.
Paris left his job June 17 after a nearly five-hour closed session with City Council. Hasselmann quit the next day. The city has paid them almost a quarter of a million dollars in severances.
Why Paris left and how Hasselmann received a severance remain a mystery. (See related article on public records requests on 1A.)
The city of Kannapolis recently hired a communications director with a salary of $71,250, the next highest salary in the six-city survey. The Kannapolis employee holds a master’s degree in public administration, an advanced certificate in marketing and a certificate in municipal administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Government. She was the communications director for the town of Matthews and worked in communications for Mooresville schools, Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools and the city of Concord.
Hasselmann started working for Salisbury in 2006 as marketing and community relations manager for parks and recreation, then became the city’s interim public information officer. Before that, she was assistant manager of outreach services for a literacy group in Florida.
When she quit last month, Hasselmann was making $18,845 more than her predecessor. Both women had the same pay grade.
Interim City Manager John Sofley, who was assistant city manager under Paris, said he had no input on Hasselmann’s raises and does not know why Paris was paying her more than her pay grade. Paris has not responded to questions from the Post for weeks.
It’s not unheard of for a city employee to earn more than his or her pay grade, Sofley said, but he called the circumstance a “rare exception.”
“We do have employees who at times have been outside the pay grade that’s assigned to them if the market for that position was competitive,” Sofley said.
Two other positions on the city’s management team had the highest salary in the six-city comparison.
City Clerk Myra Heard earns $67,485, about $3,200 more than the next highest city clerk salary, which is Mooresville. But Heard actually has two positions — city clerk and assistant to the city manager. She was earning $59,215 as city clerk before she was promoted to assistant to the city manager in 2012 and took over some of Paris’ job responsibilities when he became city manager. Heard has worked for the city for 14 years.
Salisbury-Rowan Utilities Director Jim Behmer earns $113,799, which basically ties him for highest salary with his counterpart in Concord.
Behmer, who has worked for the city for 20 years, directs a utility that serves not only Salisbury but many other areas of the county, Sofley said.
“It’s really a regional system,” Sofley said.
Behmer had a $5,000 salary bump in 2013 to include the elimination of a separate monthly stipend.
Paris’ $135,000 salary was tied for third highest with the city manager in Mooresville.
Sofley said in general, finding the right salary in city government is a balancing act.
“We want to try to hire the best people we can at the salaries we can afford, but we do have to be competitive,” he said. “Each member of our management team provides excellent service, and we would not want to lose any of them.”
The city bases a salary on the tenure and experience of the employee, the competitive environment of the position and a comparison with salaries for that position in other communities, he said. Salisbury regularly hires a consultant to conduct salary surveys, he said.
The most recent survey was done in 2010 by Springsted, the consulting firm that conducted the search that resulted in Paris becoming city manager in 2012.
Last month, city staff prepared two salary comparisons for City Council.
“The situation with Elaney has significantly heightened our community’s sensitivity to city salaries and the appearance of impropriety,” Sofley wrote to council members.
But Hasselmann’s position was not included in the comparison with other cities.
Assistant City Manager Zach Kyle compared four Salisbury positions — human resources director, planning director, police chief and public services director — with equivalent jobs in Kannapolis, Hickory and High Point, all larger than Salisbury by at least 7,000 people.
Salisbury had the lowest salary in every comparison except public works director, where Salisbury’s salary was the second lowest. Sofley said he did not know how the positions or comparable cities were chosen.
Mayor Paul Woodson said based on the survey, Salisbury compares favorably, but he has asked Kyle and Sofley to compare additional cities and report their findings to City Council.
Woodson also said he told Sofley to keep City Council informed of “any significant changes regarding personnel or salary increases.”
City staff also prepared for City Council a comparison of Salisbury salaries from 2010 under former City Manager David Treme and 2014 under Paris.
The comparison shows a savings of $193,873 with the elimination of three positions from the management team — parks and recreation director, information systems manager and Paris’ former assistant city manager job, Sofley said.
Kyle now handles parks and recreation, Fibrant General Manager Mike Jury oversees information systems, and Sofley and Heard took over some of Paris’ former responsibilities, Sofley said.
Sofley was promoted to assistant city manager in 2011 and Kyle in 2012.
Woodson said he was happy with the salary savings reflected in the comparison.
“This has been achieved through restructuring departments and combining personnel responsibilities,” he said. “I am pleased to see that our overall management team compensation has been reduced so significantly.”
Councilwoman Karen Alexander praised the city for promoting women to the management team.
“I am very proud of the city of Salisbury for paying these women department heads, who earned their promotions through meeting new educational requirements or assuming additional responsibilities and workload, within the salary grade range that is published for any employee, regardless of gender in their respective positions,” Alexander said. “Any employer who practices gender pay equality should be praised, not vilified.”
She said women on the management team have broken the glass ceiling.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.