A Fresno City Hall employee quit — then got a big raise. This can’t keep happening

Fresno City Hall. Mayor Lee Brand and the City Council are tussling over a retroactive pay raise given to a former employee.
Fresno City Hall. Mayor Lee Brand and the City Council are tussling over a retroactive pay raise given to a former employee. File

Imagine telling the boss you were quitting, and the supervisor then told you an extra $6,500 would be coming in the final paycheck to say thanks for good work.

It is called retroactive pay, and one Fresno employee got that actual amount in April when she ended her employment with City Hall.

Council members Miguel Arias and Garry Bredefeld, often political opposites on issues, learned of it and, alarmed, authored an amendment to the city’s Transparency in City Government Act to prohibit such retroactive raises from happening again. That, in turn, brought out Mayor Lee Brand’s veto pen.

Now on Thursday the council will have the opportunity to override Brand’s veto. The council should take that step to maintain integrity of the regular process that gives raises to good city employees.

The override will need five members to be successful, but given how the council backed the amendment earlier on a 6-0 vote (one council seat was vacant), it is probably a foregone conclusion that Brand will sustain his first loss of a veto.

From Brand’s perspective, he had no choice but to veto the amendment, and his view is understandable.

Under Fresno’s strong-mayor form of government, the office of the mayor acts like the executive branch. The council is the legislative body. Brand’s argument is that the lawmakers, aka City Council, should not get involved in personnel decisions made by the mayor’s office and his staff, chiefly the city manager.

If the council members can dictate who gets raises, will they also busy themselves with promotions, demotions and hiring, Brand asks. He did not want to strap future mayors with that possibility.

That’s a fair question. Clearly, City Hall will work best if both the mayor and council members act in their respective roles.

However, the council took action in this instance because of executive branch overreach. “This is taxpayer money. This is not the way things ought to be done,” Bredefeld said when the council approved the amendment in July.

The crux of the problem with the employee in June was that a yearly review had not been quite finished before she gave notice. The evaluation, apparently, was going to reward her hard work with a salary increase. Instead, it got paid as a retroactive raise.

Like many managers in private enterprise, the department heads at City Hall are strapped for time. It is hard to shoe-horn in writing a yearly review. But that is the cleanest way to give raises.

The amendment eliminated the possibility of retro raises. And now evaluations will need to be finished before any raises can be offered.

The number of employees affected by this is small — between 100 and 140, Brand estimated. All are upper-level staff not represented by any union.

Brand had a point to make, but so did the City Council. Hopefully evaluations will be done in a more timely way so raises can be awarded given while a worker is still on the payroll.