Franklin County government employees have expressed their displeasure to several elected officials regarding the hiring and pay increases of a select few.
County employees haven’t received raises since 2008, but the county has hired several new workers, serving directly under the county commission or in departments that report to the commission.
Collector Linda Emmons said employees “feel like they should get something” with regards to pay increases.
Unemployment in the county as a whole remains above the state and regional average, however.
Missouri reported 7.1 percent unemployment in June. Franklin County reported a 8.1 percent unemployment rate, second only to St. Louis city’s rate of 9.8 percent in the St. Louis region.
Presiding Commissioner John Griesheimer noted that employees got a $700 raise this year across the board, except for elected officials, paid out in parts each quarter.
“I can appreciate that, but let’s look at what happened from the state,” Griesheimer said of the employees’ concerns. “We’re down to $3 per parcel for assessments, $19.57 per day in per diem for prisons and the state just wrecked health departments’ budgets.”
Auditor Tammy Vemmer said she has heard complaints from employees that new hires or those coming into new positions have received significant pay increases but are then told there is no money available for raises for everyone else.
Critical of Department
Public Administrator Carol Eckelkamp said she has heard similar complaints, and singled out the county’s information technology department, noting that a lot of the technological issues the county has are rarely fixed by the department.
The county maintains a contract with AQM for computer technical services.
“We’ll do the best we can to assure everyone gets raises next year, but I’ve learned you can never make everyone happy,” Griesheimer said. “It infuriates me that some people, no matter how hard you try, are going to bitch and gripe.”
County Clerk Debbie Door said there’s no assurances the county will be able to afford to give employees raises because of changes to health care costs.
“Everyone knows times are tough, but I also hear people tell me ‘Well, at least I have a job,’ ” Door said.
This year the county hired Counselor Mark Vincent as a full-time employee, hired a new engineer for the highway department, Joe Feldmann, and promoted Scottie Eagan from senior planner to planning director and Eva Gadcke to highway department administrator.
Vemmer did not name specific employees, but said the changes resulted in significant pay increases.
One requisition recently approved, she said, allocated $5,000 more per year for an employee to take on additional responsibilities. Vemmer wouldn’t say who the employee was or what department he or she worked for, however.
“I don’t think it is so much the issue that (county employees) haven’t gotten raises as that others have with their title changes,” she said.
“No matter how quiet it is supposed to be, word gets out,” Emmons said. “Every year we have to go back and tell our people we have no money, yet someone gets $10,000 or $20,000 more.”
Door agreed, noting that all elected officials have heard the complaints.
“I encourage my staff to never get involved in the gossip,” she said. “It causes morale issues. There’s a lot of rumors out there and it’s our job to keep people informed.”
Rumor of New Position
Birkman said employees have told her they also are upset over ongoing discussion of the commission creating yet another position for an economic development director.
Commissioners have discussed creating such a position for several years, including when Ed Hillhouse, the county’s former presiding commissioner, was still in office.
Vemmer noted several other jumps in employee wages for those working under the commission. One employee started at about $13,000 in 1996 and was making about $53,000 in 2011. Another increased $20,000 from 2007 to 2011. Another increased $39,000 from 2003 to 2009.
Commissioner Terry Wilson said some of those increases may be due to employees moving up the career ladder.
Assessor Tom Copeland noted that in previous years, before the current recession, “we never had to have these kinds of discussions.”
Copeland said county government is similar to any other big business, and has to be run accordingly.
“We’re not trying to create a popularity contest among our staff. In big business, you’re not always making friends,” he said.
Blames Critics, Media
Commissioner Ann Schroeder said employee morale was being impacted by bad press, not pay.
Schroeder said press coverage of the numerous lawsuits the commission is currently facing over the refinancing of its outstanding bonds, its use of prayer during public meetings and its land use landfill regulations “feel like a personal attack against the employees of the county.
“The morale of our employees is more about that than the salaries,” she said.
Vemmer said she disagreed.
Eckelkamp, the outgoing public administrator, said the public has a relatively low opinion of the county commission currently.
“I haven’t been coming to the meetings, but I read the paper. I know it’s one person’s opinion, but the appearance we have…is pretty sad,” she said.
Eckelkamp is not seeking re-election this year.
Schroeder, a nonvoting member on the county’s employee personnel policy committee, said members of the committee discussed at their most recent meeting reviewing job descriptions for employees.
“Some employees feel like the only way to get a raise is to rewrite your job description, and some people are better at writing descriptions than others,” Emmons said.
County Prosecutor Bob Parks said the job descriptions currently in use were written in 1995 or 1996 and include tasks and duties such as word processing — word processors were phased out with the introduction of personal computers decades ago.