Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Commentary on Cabinet Costs

The question of compensation for top officials has come up as the City Council weighs the assignment of 24-hour, city-owned vehicles, but there is a larger issue that the council might want to consider.

The mayor’s cabinet consists of the city administrator and three department heads mandated in the City Charter. The title of deputy city administrator is also on the books, but was not used in the current administration. However, the council did approve establishment of a new title, police director. The cabinet members are part of a group of non-union officials that also includes the city clerk, fire chief, health officer, superintendent of Public Works, corporation counsel and chief financial officer. The chief of police was formerly included, but the post was abolished in 2008.

Normally these top officials receive salary increases after the unions settle. The salary ranges must be amended by ordinance. During the current administration, only two officials, City Clerk Laddie Wyatt and former Chief Financial Officer Peter Sepelya got increases by ordinance.

In a discussion Monday, it came out that both City Administrator Marc Dashield and Public Safety Director/Police Director Martin Hellwig make less than subordinates.

That may be a deal worked out with the mayor, based on personal considerations such as pension payments and other income sources, or just simple negotiations. It is certainly an advantage to the city to have someone settle for five figures when he or she is eligible for a maximum salary in six figures.

Part of the discussion on use of a 24-hour city car had to do with being able to draw highly-qualified administrators to the city. Without such perks, City Council President Rashid Burney opined, “We’ll have to go to the bottom of the barrel to get people.”

But consider the other side of the coin. If one official is willing to take on dual responsibilities and be paid at the low end of the salary scale, can the city expect always to recruit more of the same selfless individuals? A person who is already collecting a pension or has other outside income can afford to make concessions. What about a younger municipal career executive? Over the short term, the current structure may save money but will not realistically be competitive next time around.

At present, both Dashield and Hellwig are doing two jobs. Dashield is in charge of day-to-day operations of the city and also managing the 13-division responsibilities of the finance director, since Douglas Peck’s departure in December. Language in the police director ordinance allowed for Hellwig to serve in acting capacity for one year, in addition to being department head for Public Affairs & Safety, overseeing the city’s two largest divisions, police and fire.

Because second terms are a rarity in Plainfield, it may be that voters will choose a new mayor this year. Should that person be saddled with the obligation to skimp on cabinet salaries just because a precedent has been set? In light of the fiscal constraints that are expected to continue through 2009 and maybe 2010, the governing body would be prudent to get the current bottom line on salaries and compensation for the cabinet, check whether raises for the non-union officials are overdue and think about how many top titles might need to be filled in case of a change.

Otherwise, the cost of a new administration might lead to sticker shock, quibbles between the administrative and legislative branches and some degree of taxpayer revolt.

--Bernice Paglia


Blogger olddoc said...

Thanks for pointing out facts about our present officials compensation. Their total package should be public info, however on the scale they are either grossly under compensated or union contracts have inflated the salaries received by upper echelon police and fire officers. Both Deshields and Hellwig seem to be done excellent jobs especially in their dual capacity. That might be sufficient for a new mayor if their is a change to retain them.

9:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do the Confidential Aid and the other two women that surround the Mayor, for a salary, also count as her "Cabinet"?

3:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

$1200 times two cars is $2400 per year. That is what all the fuss is about? Is this going to stop my tax bill from going up 9%? I would like to see a 0% increase, and what the council and mayor are doing to stop this increase.

8:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bernice, why are readers buying into the supposed $1200 cost for the city cars as fact? Just because Dashield said so? I didn't see anything more than his really low-ball estimate, and keep in mind that he is not a disinterested party. It costs me more than that to maintain my car with gas, oil changes, insurance, tires, mileage and wear and tear, and I live in Plainfield so I can't see how it only cost Hellwig that much since he puts an average of 400 miles a week on his vehicle, and that's just commuting to Plainfield. Has anyone checked to make sure he has not been using the car in Sussex county to go to the convenience store or run errands in his own municipality? I ask that because the mayor has often been seen running personal errands and doing weekend shopping in South Plainfield in her city vehicle.

12:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, I'm not the only one who has seen the Mayor in South Plainfield doing shopping after hours in the City vehicle. I can't believe this is even being considered.

3:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The previous responders -to the person- all mean well with their thoughtful commnents. However, they miss the mark. Plainfield has been on one long anxious search for people who will get the job done. Therefore, the issue is not how much $$$$$ we pay the top dogs politicans hire, but have they gotten the job done? The market place has said no. Responders to the blogs have said no. By the way, who are City Administrator Dashield, Public Safety Director Helwig or Economic Development Director Maier? Have you ever met them, seen them? Oh, I forgot. They don't live in Plainfield even though City Charter requires them to. Thanks politicans. No wonder the job is not getting done. It ain't the money folks.

10:30 AM  
Blogger Bernice said...

FYI, Director Hellwig attends all City Council meetings and has proven to be quite accessible to people with questions. Several of the others do not respond to inquiries, so reporters and bloggers have to rely on live quotes at meetings or research into documents on file at City Hall to get a story.

1:08 PM  

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