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Two Fresno City Council members teamed up this week to put a stop to city employees getting retroactive raises before they leave their jobs.
“If somebody notifies you they are going to be leaving the city of Fresno, why would anyone say, ‘Thank you, and by the way, we’ll give you a retroactive raise?’” said Councilmember Garry Bredefeld, who on Thursday sponsored with Councilmember Miguel Arias a resolution amendment to end the practice. “This is taxpayer money. This is not the way things ought to be done.”
The Fresno City Council approved 6-0 an amendment to the city’s Transparency in City Government Act, which four years ago was updated to ban bonuses after council members became outraged when learning about $300,000 in bonuses given to top city employees by former Mayor Ashley Swearengin’s administration.
Many at City Hall refer to the debacle as “bonus-gate.”
Mayor Lee Brand played a key part in banning the bonuses during Swearengin’s tenure when he was on the council. He wrote the Transparency Act and helped write the amendments.
Back then, he likened the bonuses to “tak(ing) care of your friends.”
The new amendment would only apply to higher-level employees not represented by a union. It eliminated completely retroactive raises and prohibited raises after an employee has submitted their resignation. It also requires evaluations be completed before raises go into effect.
Arias said council members became aware of a “loophole” earlier this month when supervision of the city’s code enforcement was moved from Brand’s administration to the City Attorney’s Office. At least one employee who left a city job received about $6,500 through a retroactive raise after submitting their resignation.
“For us, it’s one employee too many,” Arias said.
Both Arias and Bredefeld said the retroactive raises are no different than the bonuses banned by the Transparency Act. “You’re splitting hairs to say it’s not a bonus,” Bredefeld said.
Arias added “It’s as they say: If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck.”
But Brand said it wasn’t the same as bonus-gate. “Nobody gets rich off the city of Fresno,” he said. “I would call this an administrative error that affected some people, and it should be corrected.”
Brand said the recent situation was a simple step raise that kicked in late because a department director completed an evaluation late. It was approved by the city manager.
To his knowledge, similar retroactive raises have only been given a handful of times in two years across his administration, the City Attorney’s Office and City Council offices.
City manager responds to amendment
During Wednesday’s meeting, City Manager Wilma Quan said the move by the council was an attempt to micromanage the mayor’s administration.
“First it was my office that you took, and now it’s telling us when we can do evaluations and retroactively pay folks who have done well,” she said.
She told the council she wished they would’ve met with her before bringing forward an agenda item, saying it was “offputting” and “a shame” to have the conversation publicly.
Quan noted the council approved a retroactive raise for the city attorney and staff in three council office received retroactive pay. Councilmember Esmeralda Soria said that was an unfair comparison since those people remain employed by the city.
Brand said he hopes department directors get the message to complete evaluations on time so this doesn’t remain an issue.