Council Approves New Layoffs
Several employees also spoke forcefully on their own behalf before the 4-3 vote, with council members Rashid Burney, Linda Carter, Cory Storch and Council President Annie McWilliams voting "yes" and William Reid, Bridget Rivers and Adrian Mapp voting "no."
The layoffs will take effect May 22, but Police Captain Siddeeq El-Amin, a 29-year veteran, said he will leave the division before taking a demotion to lieutenant. Due for mandatory retirement in January, El-Amin said he will lose $161,000 in pay for a final leave that he planned to start in July.
El-Amin said the Police Benevolent Association offered alternatives to the demotions, but they were not passed on to the council’s Finance Committee. Instead, the governing body only received recommendations from Police Director/Public Safety Director Martin Hellwig. Mapp questioned the process and asked Hellwig to explain his plan. Hellwig said the demotions coupled with hiring of six new officers were meant to keep the table of organization at 151 people.
The plan will leave the Police Division with just three captains, down from six. A seventh captain recently retired. Mapp questioned the effect on morale, but Hellwig said he had “shepherded” another police organization through demotions with no loss of morale. El-Amin later called it a “sad day” and said, “I will leave prematurely because I will not take the demotion.”
Several residents spoke in favor of retaining April Stefel, a certified landscape architect in the Planning Division who is staff liaison to the Shade Tree Commission and manages several other programs, including brownfields studies.
Shade Tree Commission Chairman Gregory Palermo praised Stefel for her “marvelous success” in coming up with grants for tree planting and maintenance.
“The grant money should be thought of as found money,” he said, “but it is not going to be found unless someone is looking for it.”
(Disclaimer: I am a member of the Shade Tree Commission.)
Stefel herself explained that she is responsible for more than $5.6 million in grants and that she had suggested her pay could be given back from various grants, but an analysis she made in December was lost or never given to the administration. She detailed the work she puts in to report to state agencies on grant-funded programs, saying the brownfields work alone takes up half her 63 part-time hours per month.
Melissa Trower of the Animal Control Division said she and Shirley Pelley have served the city for 20 years and outsourcing the work would not yield the same care and response time they have provided. Trower cited safety concerns related to a longer wait for dealing with aggressive animals.
Laurence Rice, who produces content for Channel 96, noted the long hours he puts in recording events and suggested he was being targeted for his loyalty to Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs. But McWilliams said it would not only be immoral and unethical to make such decisions on the basis of politics, it would be illegal.
After the vote, McWilliams said the budget had already been adopted and amendments to it had been unanimously approved. The administration had then submitted the layoff plan. The council could not then decide not to support the plan, she said.