The eight Independence Power & Light positions axed last week with an 11th-hour budget amendment approved by a slim City Council majority have been reinstated following some impassioned arguments at Monday's specially called meeting.
In a move that caught city staff and some council members completely off guard last week, Mike Huff, John Perkins and Tom Van Camp supported fellow Council Member Curt Dougherty's move to cut eight non-union manager or supervisor positions from an already balanced budget. The council approved the fiscal year 2019 budget that night as well.
Council Members Karen DeLuccie and Scott Roberson and Mayor Eileen Weir voted no last week, and DeLuccie requested an amendment Monday to reinstate the positions, saying last week's vote amounted to a charter violation because the council fired seven individuals (the eighth position is vacant but in the process of being filled) when only the city manager has that direct authority.
As he did last week before casting the deciding vote, Perkins passed when his name was called, and this week on the recall he paused a few more seconds before saying “pass” and then “yes.”
The positions in question are the economic planning and rates manager, utility project development manager, environmental health and safety environmental program supervisor, one of two existing safety and training specialists, three engineer III positions under the engineering supervisor and GIS (geographic information system) supervisor.
Dougherty said last week he reasoned that with the city contracting out rate studies, not burning coal anymore, producing very little of its own power and contracting out some other services as needed, the power utility could afford to be leaner in some areas. The moves would save about $1 million, and such savings now could help stave rate increases.
“It's never popular to get rid of a bunch of managers and supervisors,” Dougherty had said, adding that it was nothing personal. “We've got to make some hard decisions for the greater good.”
Perkins acknowledged afterward the decisions had weighed heavily on his mind, and ultimately he decided to let city staff take the upcoming budget year to re-evaluate several positions and perhaps recommend changes next year.
“I wanted to give it this budget year to shake out,” Perkins said. “It will give us a better look at position flow; let us do our due diligence.”
“That's going to be a mandate,” City Manager Zach Walker said after the meeting, “but it's something we take seriously anyway.”
Perkins said he didn't think last week's amendment amounted to a charter violation.
“The city manager presents the budget, and we have the ability to add or subtract to that, even specific positions,” he said.
In an unusual move, IPL Deputy Director Andy Boatright spoke before the vote by signing up as a citizen speaker. He asked the IPL employees in the audience affected by the last-minute decision, who were scattered around the council chambers, to stand. He then described the many ways he believed, at minimum, IPL would be hurt by the cuts – including the solar farm, advanced metering, electric vehicle charging and battery storage projects. The city could have a more difficult time securing bond financing that is often vital for capital projects, he said, and the master generation plan and cost-of-service rate study, which are due to the council later this summer, would be delayed or suspended, he said.
Boatright said the council's decision was “severely misdirected” and made one wonder of the real motivation. The council, he said, needs to patient, wait for recommendations from the studies and see there are “meaningful, productive, thoughtful and moral ways to cut costs.”
Jason White, a former council member, said the council threw away a chance to save many more millions long-term when it turned down the proposed smart meter project earlier this year. The IPL personnel cuts deserve time to be analyzed, he said, rather than be a “late-night massacre” that led to many rumors.
“Good process leads to good decisions,” White said. “If it was a good idea, it would survive the scrutiny of light and discussion, but you didn't give it that, so it's not a particularly good idea.”
Lucy Young, another former council member, said the city didn't show morals with the recent Health Department cuts and re-organization and the council owes itself to citizens to bring down utility rates.
If that meant cutting some positions of fat, she said, then “so be it.”
DeLuccie said last week's vote happened without any study or discussion between the council and staff.
“We had no knowledge this was going to be discussed,” she said. “We had repeated meetings on the budget; this was never discussed.”
“This charter clearly states we cannot tell that man (Walker) who to hire and who to fire,” DeLuccie later said, “and that's what we did.”
The charter section in question, Section 2.15, states:
“Councilmembers shall not direct the appointment of any person to, or their removal from, office or employment by the city manager or by any other authority, or, except as provided in this charter, participate in any manner in the appointment or removal of officers and employees of the city. Councilmembers shall deal with the administrative service solely through the city manager; and no councilmember shall give orders to any subordinate of the city manager either publicly or privately.”
In addition, “councilmembers may otherwise contact such officers and employees for the purpose of inquiry on matters of concern, but shall not direct such officers and employees in the performance of their administrative duties.”
Councilmembers found violating that section would be guilty of a misdemeanor, fined and removed from office.