By Chea Waters Evans, News Editor
Not for the first time, the majority of a Selectboard meeting was spent discussing pay for a position in the town clerk’s office. After an at-times contentious discussion, on July 30 the board approved a pay rate for the new assistant town clerk/treasurer and raised the pay rate for the current assistant town clerk/treasurer Christina Booher, who will stay on to train the new employee.
The pay issue has been discussed several times at Selectboard meetings over the course of the summer; at issue was a pay raise from the position’s current salary for the new employee. The rate increase would reflect a market adjustment but would also cause the new employee to be paid more than Booher, who is remaining on the job full time for the month of August and part time for September to train her replacement before she moves out of state.
Town Clerk/Treasurer Mary Mead said in the meeting that she was pleased with the new hire, Charlotter Sy Koerner, upon meeting her. “I was thrilled when she walked in the door,” she said. Koerner is scheduled to begin her new position Aug. 3. The problem with her hiring arose when Selectboard member Frank Tenney pointed out that in hiring the new assistant while Booher was still employed full time there would be two full-time employees doing the same job, which was not in the budget.
What is in the budget are funds for a part-time assistant town clerk/treasurer at 20 hours a week in addition to the full-time assistant town clerk/treasurer to assist Mead. That item of the budget was scheduled to begin July 1 of this year, but the position has yet to be posted. Booher was originally supposed to leave her job at the end of October but moved her departure date to the end of September. Tenney thought that the new person would fill that role as a trainee until Booher left for good.
Tenney said “the businessman in me is saying” that paying two people full time for a part-time position was not sound spending despite the need for training.
“You think it’s more beneficial for somebody who’s brand new?” Mead asked, referring to the money for the new position.
“I’m not saying that,” Tenney said. “For me the transition would be from when Christina gives her [end] date, so we know what date this person will be hired for.”
“So you have no training whatsoever?” Booher asked.
“That’s what I thought this person would be,” Tenney said. “Let’s get this person in to start when you’re gone.”
Board Chair Matt Krasnow said from his point of view, no matter who was getting paid the money when, it was within the budget to pay for both Booher and the new hire simultaneously. “The money has been built up; it’s the same difference,” he said. “Financially, I don’t see any difference to the taxpayer… I think there’s money budgeted, the money can flip flop to [Booher] instead of the new hire.”
Mead said, “I think y’all didn’t bat an eyelash when you paid Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission $50 an hour for somebody to sit in the zoning office for the length of time there was no zoning administrator. And there seems to be money in the budget for that so I find this discussion to be quite…”
“Sad,” Selectboard member Carrie Spear interjected.
“Sad,” Mead repeated.
Board member Louise McCarren decided shortly thereafter to make a motion to assign the assistant town clerk/treasurer for $22 per hour for a 40-hour week position in the step 5 pay grade starting Monday, Aug. 3, and the board approved it 5-0.
After the vote, Krasnow said, “I would like to just make a small point that there was a comparison made to a contractor who was hired by the town who is not an employee of the town, and that is why the pay rate was so much higher.”
The peace from the pay increase decision lasted for less than a minute when the issue of raising Booher’s pay came up. At first the board wasn’t even sure if they should discuss it since it was not, technically, on the agenda for the night, though some thought the general agenda item of the assistant town clerk/treasurer’s pay could involve both the new and departing people’s salaries.
Spear said, “I was under the impression that whatever pay rate we hired, you were going to be at that same pay rate that the new person was being hired until you leave.”
“I was going to be at the same pay rate even though the man came back and said that the pay range for my job was 18 to 30 and I had been there for six years?” Booher asked, referring to a consultant from Gallagher Flynn who was hired to evaluate the position earlier this summer.
“Oh,” Spear said.
“And I came to this job with over 13 years of experience and exactly kind of what I’m doing now? And I’ve asked, and sat in front of you guys, and reevaluated my job on two different occasions, and you shot me down, only to have a professional come in and actually show you everything I had asked for…”
At this point McCarren interjected and Booher stopped talking. Krasnow said he thought the issue should be brought up at a later date, and that it seemed like they were “paying people by shooting from the hip; I highly recommend against this.”
“I don’t want to do that either, but every time we talk about it there’s an argument. I want a pay system where everybody doesn’t have to argue every year,” Spear said.
Krasnow said, “We’re being asked to go to extraordinary measures to be unfair to every other employee; if there’s complaints, there’s 13 other employees…” He and the rest of the board eventually ran the calculations, everyone came up with $25.02 per hour, and a motion was made to pay Booher that salary until she left the position, but the discussion started again before a vote.
Board member James Faulkner said he thought “it would be nice” to get a date when Booher was leaving. Spear wanted to know, “Why is that so important?”
Discussion resumed about whether the expense was worth it for both two people to train a new employee on a full-time basis, with Tenney wondering if there was money in the budget and whether it was fiscally responsible to accommodate three full-time employees.
“There could be a cleaner way to do it, but Carrie wants to hire everybody,” Tenney said.
“No, I want to see us get through the end of September, and if it takes three of them to get through the end of September…” Spear said. She said she thought Mead might not hire that third part-time person eventually.
“I beg to differ,” Tenney said. “I would expect…”
“No. No,” Spear interrupted.
Tenney replied, “You keep on saying no, Carrie. I’m not trying to be confrontational with you, but Mary brought up this extra person before Christina really was going to leave. She has been complaining about needing a third person there for a year and a half. And I say complain…they probably need the person. I’m not saying they don’t need the person. But she’s been talking about this third person since before Christina was leaving.”
McCarren said, “We have great uncertainty about who said what and how people communicate. For me, that’s a lesson going forward…we’ve got to get through this…but I’m with you. This is Uncertainville.”
At this point, Booher had left the meeting; Krasnow pointed out that the job salaries were actually still within the department’s budget, and that the only item that would go over the budget would be paying benefits to two employees at once.
Faulkner said, “We don’t want to take her benefits away. That would be a storm. Stay out of the storm.”
The board agreed to accept that expense and voted unanimously to set Booher’s new pay rate at $25.02 based on pay grade and calculate it according to step 11 starting Monday, Aug. 3.