City raises fail in West Memphis Council
Five no-shows, last-minute changes doom plan
West Memphis city employees felt slighted by city council after the last regular scheduled meeting July. City council failed to issue long-awaited raises in a meeting that should have been canceled for lack of interest on the part of Aldermen. Half the alderman missed the meeting forcing the mayor to be a sixth vote for a quorum along with the five councilmen that showed up. Three issues strangled proceedings. Councilmen James Pulliaum and Wayne Croom echoed each others’ complaints about three last-minute changes, unanswered questions with particular raises and feeling the vote on Mayor Marco McClendon’s payroll plan and budget amendment came too fast to fully evaluate it in detail. The whole thing left city employees empty handed.
Five aldermen missed the meeting which mired the process from the beginning. Roll call had to be taken twice in the confusion with the mayor announcing after the second tally he’d cast deciding votes to make a quorum.
Councilwoman Helen Harris was shocked to learn no raises were awarded in her absence. Harris said she had told other city council members at the last meeting she’d be in Nashville for a church conference.
“I told everybody I’d be at my church conference,” said Harris. “Councilman Pulliaum knew for sure.”
Newly elected Councilman David Murray missed his second regularly scheduled meeting after being sworn into office. He said he’d would have postponed his vacation to Louisiana had he known ahead of time about the meeting.
“I got a text reminder the morning of the meeting, but by then it was too late,” said Murray. “I was already gone. I did not know about the meeting. If I had, I would have delayed my vacation.”
Councilman Lorraine Robinson responded to questions about her absence via social media saying she held a fine attendance record but missed because of an unavoidable medical appointment with a specialist. Robinson submitted an ordinance to give city council a $300 per month raise but was not there to present it. The city council members present tabled the idea and said they would not re-visit it until city employee increases were in hand.
Attempts to reach Councilman Willis Mondy were unsuccessful. The contact phone number for Councilwoman Melanie Hutchin-
“It’s not so much that they won’t be getting a raise…
we need to look at the budget closer. We will make the raises retroactive. I and the department heads have been working on this all year.” — West Memphis Mayor Marco McClendon. son on the city web page was wrong according to the man that answered the number. Hutchinson did not call back on a message about her absence on her private cell number.
The big issue revolved around granting the entire wage increase or doing one for just the police and fire department. Councilman James Pulliaum and Wayne Croom moved for raises for the WMFD and WMPD.
An amendment to consider police and fire only passed, but the vote for those departments failed. Mayor McClendon voted against it, in an all or nothing gamble.
McClendon and Councilman Tracy Catt wanted the whole package including city hall departments passed on an up or down vote. Councilman James Holt expressed support for the mayor’s proposal in the pre-council meeting work session, but Catt’s motion in the session on the floor was met with silence. No second was heard forcing Catt to withdraw the motion for lack of a second.
The matter only became more complicated in the pre-council meeting work session with a last minute attempt to expand the scope of raises.
One more department and two elected offices had paperwork to sponsor raises too. Next, the city budget amendment to fund the raise package needed to be increased to include the additional requests. An ordinance making the elected city clerk position full time with pay equivalent to the treasurer was presented and a raise for city council representatives was too late to make the agenda but presented to city council anyway. The additions along with unanswered questions about particular raises in the city administration left Pulliaum’s and Croom’s heads spinning. They said they needed more time.
“It’s not so much that they won’t be getting a raise,” said Pulliaum to McClendon in the city council meeting. “Many of us (aldermen) felt we needed to look at the budget closer. We will make the raises retroactive.”
“I and the department heads have been working on this all year,” said Mc-Clendon. “We had months to get things approved and now you want to move things back. We have this before the council and today is the time to act.”
“You said ‘I”,” replied Pulliaum. “Mayor, you always use the pronoun ‘I’. I don’t care how long ‘you’ have been working on it; it just came to us in the last week and a half.”
Croom wanted more time to consider and desired input from absent city council colleagues.
“It’s difficult to make a decision because we have five council members not here and we don’t know their opinions,” said Croom. “I’m with Councilman Pulliaum. I am not saying you don’t deserve a raise. It just came before us two weeks ago and there was another change right before the meeting.”
“Yes, there was a clerical error of $13,000 on the $805,000 presentation,” said Councilman Tracy Catt.
With that, many of the city employees on hand walked out of the meeting.
After the meeting adjourned, another round of fireworks started.
Fire Chief Dennis Brewer said firefighters were hot.
“They need to hear certain things right now that I’m going to say to them in person and that everyone can hear in the media.
They need reassurances that these raises are coming and that they are doing a fine job serving the city’s citizens. This wasn’t about them. The story today is the missing councilmen.”
The comparative wage analysis that set increased pay recommendations for city workers was supposed to provide data for a rational decision. Pulliaum alleged favorites were being played while the study was being ignored.
Outside City Hall, Pulliaum insisted his questions would be addressed. He would not specify who he thought had benefited from special consideration.
“Since some of this will name names, it may have to get hashed out in executive session,” said Pulliaum. “You haven’t heard the last of me yet. There are some huge raises. At least four raises are going to people who got raises last year. That’s not supposed to be. These raises are for all those that did not receive a raise since last June.”
Croom concurred in a separate interview about the apparent departure from the wage study for certain city administration employees in a game of favorites.
“Well that was obvious,” said Croom. “There were those proposed for high four-figure and even low five-figure raises. That is why Pulliaum and I wanted to go ahead with police and fire raises and then take a look at the rest.”
City council generally agreed that a special called meeting to finalize a raise consensus was in order for next week, but no meeting had been announced by press time.