On governing ColumbiaAs a Columbia resident, as a Columbia...


January 29, 1995

On governing Columbia

As a Columbia resident, as a Columbia Council member and as a former journalist, I am very disappointed with The Sun's recent coverage of the council's compensation study and vote, "Council's Quick OK of Pay Scales Faulted," in the news section Jan. 16, and "How to Hasten Incorporation," an editorial Jan. 19. As chair of the compensation study committee, permit me to comment.

Sun assertion: "No change was necessary because the study found current CA officer/manager salaries to be reasonably in line with the 50th percentile market composite rates."

You're comparing apples and peaches, or, more specifically, salaries and salary ranges, two very different things. The study of current CA pay-range midpoints relative to market midpoints actually finds that 28 positions -- 80 percent of the 35 studied -- fall from 1 to 32 percent below the market midpoints. (Two are from 0 to 10 percent above and five more extend from 10 to 16 percent above.) Although current salaries are "reasonably" in line, salary scales are not. Any organization worth its salt wants to stay current to be able to compete for and retain the best employees. That does not happen if your salary scales are outmoded (and the last such CA study goes back almost 10 years), and you face the real possibility of losing some of your best people because you are no longer competitive.

Sun assertion: "The new salary range structure will boost some 1996 salaries to $114,000, a 23.9 percent increase.

Nonsense. The $114,000 is the maximum recommended for the first salary range, where the minimum is set at $76,000 and the midpoint at $95,000. Both positions in this band are currently below the midpoint. It is possible -- but by no means automatic -- that these employees will have their salaries adjusted to the midpoint figure (about a 4 percent raise). To say they will leap to the maximum in one year is clearly absurd. These ranges are not only for fiscal year '96, but for many years thereafter.

An additional comment on the erroneous $114,000 figure: I do not understand why The Sun failed to correct this error when it had an opportunity to do so. On Jan. 18, a written statement from me and a phone call from CA's Pam Mack sought to clarify two errors: the $114,000, plus the estimated FY '96 implementation costs, listed incorrectly at $100,000 (because the reporter was given an erroneous number) but which in reality is more like $48,000. The editorial that appears the day after we had delivered these corrections manages to list the corrected $48,000 figure but continues to say that some salaries will rise to $114,000. This is not the kind of journalism I learned in school.

Sun assertion: "That the council approved the pay scales without discussing potential costs."

Not true. Why The Sun would quote someone to this effect who had no knowledge of any such discussions (and there were many during the course of our deliberations because the council was concerned with the financial impact question), or why The Sun failed to seek a committee member response to the assertion confounds me. My prevote presentation covered numerous aspects of the study. The $48,000 cost was omitted as were many other details, not to avoid comment but because I did not feel it was pertinent, just as I felt that other items of information should be omitted, because they, too, were not vital to the presentation, given the time constraints. The man who raised this question after the fact was a member of the audience that night; he had only to speak up and ask.

Sun assertion: "That adoption of the new ranges was 'rammed through' to avoid public discussion of the pay raises."

Wrong again. I asked for the council's vote that night to bring to closure a project that had been on the table for more than a year. It was just that innocent. Our vote did not grant pay raises (we neither grant nor approve staff raises, with the exception of the president's), as the news and editorial pages would have readers believe.

Rather, it accepted the consultant's report and its recommendations regarding salary range modifications. I had commented that in retrospect it might have been wiser to wait for the next council session to vote on the matter. I erred in proceeding so quickly, especially since there was no urgent reason to do so other than to put the study behind us and move on to other pending important issues. I regret having done that. But in truth, I think the time factor is being used as an excuse to criticize. We knew when we embarked on the study that this day would be accompanied by criticism. Even if we had agreed to hold the line on salaries, there would have been those in the community who would continue to insist that CA staff is overpaid. I had hoped that the press would provide an objective, unbiased report of the consultant's findings. Unfortunately, that was not the case.

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