Why I voted against two agenda items at last night's Council Meeting
Below is quick recap of yesterday's council meeting and the reasons I voted no on two issues.
The reason I voted against adding two new positions in the law department which we were told would increase the budget by $220k, bringing it to just under $1m.
Before we add any new positions in the law department or increase their budget, we need to look at what other similar cities are doing differently that allows them to operate with substantially smaller law department budgets.
I understand that no two cities are exact apples-to-apples comparisons, but do Beachwood's legal needs really require a law department budget just under $1m, when Solon’s law Department budget for 2021 is $385k, Lyndhurst’s is $214k, Rocky River's is $218k, Twinsburg's at $285,350, Hudson's at $381,155, Aurora's at $368,281 and Shaker’s is at $815,522.
While Shaker’s law department budget is near our level, they also provide legal work for the Shaker Heights Development Corporation, the regional dispatch center they are part of, and the Shaker Heights Municipal Court. If you pull up the annual reports from Beachwood Mayor’s court and the Shaker Municipal Court, you can see that for 2019 and 2020, there were 8,419 and 4,882 total criminal cases (including traffic citations) filed by Shaker, compared to less than half of that with 3,735 and 2,202 filed by Beachwood in those years. Beachwood's new case numbers for the first 6 months of 2021 are tracking below the YTD numbers through June of 2020 which is significantly behind the pre pandemic numbers of 2019. How was the current staffing level able to handle the significantly higher volume of legal work in 2019, but now we need an additional two extra people when the level of work is significantly less?
The Ohio Auditor's office just finished a performance audit of Twinsburg's law department that compared their staffing levels to the law departments in Aurora, Hudson and Streetsboro which you can read here. All four of these cities average the equivalence of 2 or less full time employees in their law departments. This compares to Beachwood law department which will have 5 full time employees if these two new positions are added. I have asked those supporting the addition of these two new positions to explain the unique level of legal work they believe Beachwood has that other similar cities don't have which would justify and/or require a law department with significantly larger staffing level and budget. This hasn't been answered which is why I voted against it.
The reasons I voted against giving nonunion employees the same 2.25%, 2.25% and 2.5% annual raises the unions negotiated for in the most recent round of collective bargaining agreements.
The reason I voted against this is it would actually result in annual raises of approximately 5% for most non union employees since every year they move up a “step” which is a 2-3% raise by itself until they top out at step 13. For those who have topped out at step 13, there are many ways to structure things so they don’t stay flat and continue to get 2-3% annual raises without giving the other 80% annual raises of 5%.
I wouldn’t have an issue with continual 5% raises in order to get compensation to the top levels in the region. However, we are already at the top compensation levels for the region and not just for cities our size with 12k residents, but also compared to cities ones 3x larger and more complex than us. I completely support paying at or near the top level in a labor market which we are already at and am confident will continue with annual raises of 2-3%.
At some point annual 5% raises are simply not sustainable as someone at $100k in 2020 will be at $121,550 in 2023 and this doesn’t include the cost of our benefits which are better than almost any other city or school district offer. The number of city employees whose gross annual pay was over $100k went from 69 in 2019 to 77 in 2020 with another 15 between $95k and $100k and I doubt you will find any city under 30K residents near these levels. I am not advocating to cut anyone’s pay or even keep levels flat but considering where our compensation levels currently are compared to the rest of the region, I don’t think it’s draconian to try to keep annual raises at 2-3% instead of at 5%.
A quick note on my suggestion at last night's meeting to have a performance audit conducted by the Ohio Auditor's Office.
The Ohio Auditor’s Office has a service where cities can hire them to provide “performance audits” of their operations. The performance audit team will choose 4-5 “peer cities” similar to Beachwood, and compare everything from services offered by cities, the number of employees in each department, and wage and benefits levels. I think any organization, especially a city like Beachwood, would benefit from having an outside unbiased 3rd party like the Ohio Auditor’s Office conduct a full and peer comparative analysis of our operations every 5-7 years, instead of relying on ourselves to judge ourselves. While I didn’t sense much support or enthusiasm for this among others on Council, the Mayor seemed open to this idea and hopefully will be something moved forward on.
Thanks for your time and feel free to call me at 216-832-6771 or email me at Mike@burkonsforbeachwood.com, with any thoughts or questions.