IW salary adjustment report elusive

Published 12:49 pm Wednesday, October 21, 2015

By Diana McFarland

News editor

Six weeks after a request was made for salary changes at the Isle of Wight County courthouse, the information has not yet been provided.

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At least two supervisor candidates believes the delay is politically motivated as the actual salaries will likely not be available for print until after the Nov. 3 election.

On Monday night, Isle of Wight County spokesman Don Robertson said the full time salaries would be available Tuesday, but could not say if the information would arrive in time to be published in The Smithfield Times for the Oct. 21 issue.

It did not. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

How the story evolved

Shortly after the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors in August approved a review of employee pay and compensation, a rumor circulated that at least one department head was to receive a pay increase of $30,000.

The Smithfield Times requested, on Sept. 9 and 14, the salaries of all county employees before and after the salary study was implemented.

Initially, Isle of Wight County spokesman Don Robertson reported that employees would be notified by letter, and that the new salaries would go into effect Oct. 1.

“As soon as the information is available I will forward it to you,” wrote Robertson in an Oct. 1 email.

The Smithfield Times again requested the information on Oct. 1 and was told the salaries would be provided the next week, according to an Oct. 9 email from Robertson.

“They are still inputting data and addressing appeals,” Robertson said.

The next week, on Oct. 16, The Smithfield Times again asked for the salary information and received the following reply.

“I discussed the salary request with HR (Human Resources). I was advised that the full-time salaries are in the system, however, the updated part-time salaries lag by two weeks, so all salaries will not be available until around the 27th when the next payroll is processed,” according to Robertson in a Oct. 16 email.

The Smithfield Times requested just the full-time salaries on Oct. 19, and was told that evening the information would arrive some time the next day.

Isle of Wight County administrative staff is aware of The Smithfield Times’ deadlines and that information received on a Tuesday (Oct. 27) is unlikely to be published in the next edition.

If received on Oct. 27, the earliest the information could be provided to residents is Nov. 4 — a day after the election where three supervisor seats are up for grabs.

Newport District Supervisor candidate Albert Burckard saw the delay as a political move.

“It’s to protect the incumbents in the upcoming election so people will not see ahead of time the tremendous expense in salary raises for this study they (the Board of Supervisors) voted on.”

“The late release of this four working days before the election and beyond the deadline of the local paper is to shield the incumbents from criticism by not publicizing the suspected vast increase in salaries for upper level management staff,” said Burckard, who had heard the rumor of a $30,000 pay increase.

Burckard’s opponent, William McCarty is also concerned about transparency.

“We’ve got to stop the big cover-ups in this county. We have to start being accountable and transparent on everything that concerns the taxpayers business. We’ve gotten to the place where enough is enough,” he said.

“For Isle of Wight County, the FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) has been the great delay or the great cover-up.”

Smithfield Supervisor candidate Dick Grice questions of the wisdom of giving pay raises when the county is still operating at a deficit and taking on “frivolous” capital projects.

Isle of Wight County Administrator Anne Seward said staff had found about $350,000 in savings to partially defray the cost of the salary changes, but Grice said that’s a one-time fix and must be repeated the next year and the next.

“It just doesn’t make any sense,” he said, and criticized the salary study for not including comparisons with Surry and Southampton counties.

As for why the information is taking a long time to obtain, “it’s a very difficult thing to explain unless there’s some other motivation,” he said.

“Why the lack of transparency?”

Grice’s opponent for the Smithfield seat, Lawrence Pitt, said that as soon as the employees were notified, the information should have been released.

“It’s our information. There’s no reason to sit on it,” he said.

Windsor District Supervisor candidate Joel Acree also thinks its politically motivated.

 “It raises an eyebrow. I’ve been to a lot of debates and forums lately and opponent has mentioned triumphs and accomplishments and this wasn’t on the list. Why? If it was going to help her politically, it should have been on that list,” Acree said.

Windsor Supervisor and incumbent Dee Dee Darden said she wasn’t aware of the dates of the requests for information by The Smithfield Times.

Darden said the study was conducted to “keep and retain good talent.”

As for releasing the information, she said the delay is “part of the process, it’s an administrative thing.”

She said it did seem coincidental that the information would not be available for publication in The Smithfield Times until after the election. Darden said she has not heard of any giant raises, however.

According to the study presented to the Board of Supervisors in August, the county’s current salaries lag the market by about 10 percent. Of those, 87 percent of employees have salaries in the lower half of the pay ranges and that 63 percent of the positions need compensation adjustments.

The total estimated cost to implement the study with fringes is estimated at $817,230.

At the same time, Isle of Wight County has some of the highest paid top administrative employees, and elected officials, as compared to similar Virginia localities, according to a salary survey conducted by The Smithfield Times earlier this year. {/mprestriction}