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Manchester officials to meet tonight to discuss difference of opinion regarding pay raises for currently elected officials

Posted on Tuesday, March 18, 2014 at 4:36 pm

By Josh Peterson, editor

A resolution is expected to be brought before the Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen tonight (Tuesday) that would put a delay on pay increases the board voted to give its current members and the mayor last year.

The Manchester Times has learned that alderman Cheryl Swan asked to introduce the resolution after she says she learned that the compensation increases for all six aldermen and the mayor’s position would actually take effect for current elected officials and not for the next group of elected officials.

“That is absolutely not what I voted to do last year when we were making changes to our charter,” said Swan. “I heard it through the rumor mill at city hall that we had given ourselves a raise and I questioned [mayor] Lonnie [Norman] about it and told him I didn’t think that was how it went. And I told him I didn’t remember the dollar amount being so high and that I didn’t think it was supposed to take effect for us but he said it was.”

Currently, aldermen are compensated $250 per month and the mayor’s position makes $800 per month, according to the city’s finance office.

The Manchester Times obtained a copy of the charter change submitted to the State Legislature for approval and it calls for alderman pay to jump to $850 per month and the mayor’s position to pocket $1,600 per month – both significant increases. Those changes will take effect once passed by the State Legislature and sent back to the city for approval.

Swan’s resolution calls for the raises to remain but for them to not take effect for any currently elected officials.

“It is wrong to give ourselves a raise,” she said. “I kept those amounts of $800 and $1,600 in there but during our discussion I want to try and lower those.”

Alderman Tim Pauley doesn’t recall voting to put a raise into effect for current elected officials, either, but he added that raises were needed at some point at the advisement of the Municipal Technical Advisory Service.

“The way I understood this was that we were going to take the suggestions of MTAS (Municipal Technical Advisory Service) to increase pay but we all agreed that it wouldn’t happen until the next group of people came in,” said Pauley. “You can’t vote yourself a raise.”

Manchester Mayor Lonnie Norman said the city was within its legal rights to implement raises for him and the aldermen by pushing it through a charter change and not through an ordinance.

“I talked to [city attorney] Gerald [Ewell] and he said no, you can’t give yourself a raise. But once you send it to Nashville in a charter change and they send it back then everybody gets it then,” said Norman.

Norman added that if raises don’t take effect until the next group of officials is elected then pay would be staggered.

“That’s why you do it through a charter, so some people aren’t making more than others,” said Norman.

Norman added that nothing has been changed in the submitted charter paperwork since the board voted on the changes last summer.

“It was a 6-0 vote,” said Norman. “And now some are saying they didn’t know. It was never changed nowhere. Gerald has the paperwork from start to finish. Nothing was ever changed.”

“I don’t know who types those to send up there … that’s what we need to find out,” said Pauley. “This is not what MTAS recommended.”

Alderman Ryan French said that MTAS suggested the changes.

“Since it was a charter change [the changes may go into place now],” said French. “I anticipated once it passed by that point it would be immediate.”

French said compensation needed to be raised.

“They never raised compensation for years and years because [aldermen] took in-lieu of insurance payments. Once they did away with that they never gave a raise. So it sat dormant. MTAS suggested it.”

When asked if he would support a change to push the raises back to the next group of elected officials, French replied “I’d have to do some thinking on that. It’s hard to answer without doing a lot of studying.”

Alderman Donny Parsley said he was acting on MTAS advice and that he didn’t feel he was “giving himself a raise.”

“We are voting to put [compensation] in line with every city and town around here,” said Parsley. “We aren’t really voting to give ourselves a raise. As far as me giving myself a raise … that is not what I’m doing.”

The charter change sent to the State Legislature reads: “until otherwise established by ordinance by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, the mayor shall receive compensation in the amount of $1,600 per month and the aldermen shall receive compensation in the amount of $850 per month.”

The clause, listed in Section 2, goes on to read that “any ordinance increasing salaries must be preceded by public notice of intent to adopt and must receive final approval 90 days prior to the next general city election and shall become effective for those officials elected at the next general city election and for the remaining officials elected two years later.”

However, since the change is in the charter and not through an ordinance, the compensation increases can become effective as soon as the charter passes the state legislature.

An email sent from mayor administrative assistant Joy Ballard to the board in April highlighting changes to the original charter  shows discrepancies in the compensation figures. That email shows a change in pay of $650 per month for aldermen in a list titled “changes to the original draft of the Manchester charter re-write” but another attachment in the email indicates a figure of $850.

The city board is scheduled to meet at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Manchester City Hall (200 W. Fort St.) to discuss the resolution to make an adjustment to the charter.

Read more in next week’s print edition of the Manchester Times.