Why should city taxpayers pay salary for fire chief's regional job?
Dec. 16, 2001
At a time when many firefighters and police officers tell us they are frustrated by low pay and staff shortages, giving a single employee more money is an ill-advised and demoralizing management decision.
Some courageous soul needs to seriously analyze the benefits to the city of the $8,000 pay raise Mayor John Robert Smith gave Fire Chief Bunky Partridge.
When The Meridian Star enquired about the specifics of the pay raise Partridge got in mid-October, Smith as is frequently the case was out of town and unavailable for comment. His spokesman, Maureen Lofton, said it was none of our business, that the chief's pay was not public information. She very rudely refused to answer a reporter's questions.
We have a fundamental disagreement with Lofton's attitude and find it a shame that any enquiry whether from a news reporter or a private citizen would be treated with such arrogant disregard. Maybe she's been in the job too long to appreciate the fact that anyone has a legitimate right to raise legitimate questions about the expenditure of public dollars.
As it turns out, Lofton was just plain wrong, and in her role as city spokesman she should have known that the fire chief's salary is clearly and without question public information. Lofton, like other executives of city government, seems so busy bobbing and weaving and avoiding direct answers to direct questions that she may have forgotten who pays her salary. She may have forgotten why city government exists.
On the subject of the fire chief's pay raise, however, it is appropriate to question why city taxpayers are paying the whole salary of an individual whose duties, at least in part, include working for a private, nonprofit corporation. The city's human resources director, Gary Matlock, confirmed that Smith awarded Partridge the extra money because he got the additional duty of helping to develop new training programs and procedures associated with a multi-state transportation safety center. Triple III Corp., the nonprofit entity, will manage the new safety center, which supposedly will train personnel to respond to emergencies such as train derailments here and elsewhere.
City officials have not publicly explained in detail the additional responsibilities assigned to Partridge, nor have they explained in detail the role of Triple III Corp.
In our view, the cost of Partridge's additional duties should be paid by the entities that stand to benefit from his new, expanded, regional role. If the safety center is larger in scope than just the city of Meridian, part of the responsibility for paying for it should fall elsewhere, too.
At a time when no other city employee has gotten a pay raise for lack of money, at a time when critical staff shortages exist in the Meridian Fire Department and the Meridian Police Department, at a time when many firefighters and police officers are telling us they are frustrated by low pay, at a time when two major departments of city government have vacancies at the top, at a time when revenue shortfalls threaten the basic operations of city government, giving a single employee more money is an ill-advised and demoralizing management decision.
Compounding the action by a bull-headed refusal to disclose or explain it is simply a ludicrous exercise, another violation of the spirit of openness and inclusion in which city government must learn to operate.