Part I: A City Hall human resources director faces a lonely battle against patronage

PART I: This is a story about patronage, which still exists in the 21st century despite attempts to bring sounder management practices to government. Patronage is about jobs and money. Patronage is about flouting the rules. Patronage is about running over little people who raise a stink.

If you work for an employer that faces a multimillion-dollar deficit and hasn’t given across-the-board raises to its employees in three years, can you still wrangle a raise?

Apparently so if you work for the city of Fort Worth, where City Hall officials figured out a way in recent months to break the logjam for 10 lucky employees out of thousands.

As readers of the Dave Lieber Watchdog column in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram first learned, six of the 10 quietly got annual raises of 10 percent or more, including a 32 percent raise for one and 35 percent for another.

How did that happen? The employee’s job title was changed so he or she was bumped up to a higher classification. Then, the employee’s salary matched at least the minimum for the new pay grade.

In the months preceding these raises, officials talked of a $31 million budget deficit and watched as departments were consolidated and 165 jobs were eliminated. Furloughs for employees continue.

Among the lucky 10 employees, six work in the Law Department and four on the Enterprise Resource Planning team, which runs the city’s troubled new payroll and timekeeping network.

Boss Tweed, or a satire of him here, served as leader of NY's patronage haven, Tammany Hall.

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The Police Department also asked for title changes and pay raises for 11 employees who worked on the same ERP project, but the request was denied by assistant city managers who handled these decisions, city records show. The Police Department declined to comment.

The job title changes and raises can go through without City Council approval, officials say. They were approved by top city staffers at the assistant city manager level in April and May.

A city spokesman explained that the raises were necessary because members of the ERP team had undergone extensive training at taxpayer expense. The raises were needed to keep them working for the city.

All four received their raises with retroactive back pay to Oct. 1.

Although memos referred to the raises in the Law Department as “special merit increases,” the official word in a written answer to my questions is that they stemmed from new City Attorney Sarah Fullenwider’s reorganization of her department “from two divisions into seven sections, each led by a section chief. … The purpose was to provide more oversight and better service.”

The raises came with a price.

Internal discussions about the planned actions sometimes became heated, according to records I read after making a Public Information Act request. At nearly every turn, one City Hall official kept raising red flags.

By the end, he wrote that he felt “harassed and bullied” by an assistant city manager who insisted on the changes.

The objector — Assistant Human Resources Director Richard Hodapp — kept asking in numerous memos whether the raises and promotions followed city rules. He fretted that the pay raises, if handled improperly, would harm morale.

As a fail-safe, city policy requires that raises of 10 percent or higher be approved by a top-level superior with a written waiver.

In an April 20 memo recounting a conversation with Assistant City Manager Karen Montgomery, Hodapp wrote that he reminded Montgomery that waivers are required.

“She said, well we have been talking about this. Isn’t that a waiver?”

Montgomery told him to use a previous letter from another official as the written waiver request, he wrote.

“At this time,” Hodapp added, “I was more concerned about keeping my job than trying to rebut her. She simply did not want to listen. She just wanted me to do what she wanted.”

About the ERP team raises, he wrote, “Now without any ACM [assistant city manager] oversight or approval Karen has forced through a huge salary increase for two of the ERP Team members. 32% for Shawnette Brown and 35% for Theresa Goolsby.”

Brown’s salary jumped from $51,000 to $68,000. Goolsby’s went from $49,000 to $66,000. (The new job title for the four getting raises is IT Business Planner/ERP.) Hodapp complained about Montgomery’s “tone of voice that she has used on me this week and the constant criticism of everything I have been doing.” That treatment, he writes, was designed “to force me into allowing HR actions done without any approvals or appropriate oversight.”

“Without a doubt, I feel like I was harassed and bullied into doing something I would never have done myself as a professional. It certainly was not ethical.”

Montgomery and Hodapp were not available for comment.

In another note, on April 13, Hodapp wrote Human Resources Director Karen Marshall that Fullenwider’s original proposal for across-the-board raises for her entire Law Department staff worried him. “It appears to be a gift to these employees. There were no salary increases approved by council for this year. The proposal is across the board, so it is a salary increase. There is no precedent. Will other departments be allowed to do the same. Will this create morale issues and hostility in other departments?”

The across-the-board increases never happened.

Fretting about proposed new job titles, Hodapp wrote, “Will this appear to be based on favoritism? … Will this create opportunities to file discrimination complaints based on age, sex or race?”

He concluded: “While much of the request is unorthodox based on the city’s rules and procedures, my feeling is that this will create several opportunities for discrimination complaints.”

What to call the new job titles took weeks of discussion. Eventually, five carrying the title of “Senior Assistant City Attorney” were promoted to “Senior Assistant City Attorney/Section Chief.” Four of the five received raises of 5 to 7 percent, bringing their salaries to between $100,000 and $118,000. (One didn’t get a raise because her salary was already $118,000.)

The Prosecuting Attorney was promoted to Chief Prosecutor with a 16 percent raise to $70,000. The Assistant City Attorney II became a Senior Assistant City Attorney/Section Chief with an 11 percent jump to $90,000.

At one point, Hodapp apologized for raising a fuss, writing that HR’s job is to make sure that everything is done correctly. He also confided in writing to a colleague that he feared the assistant city managers with whom he argued “will use me as the bad guy to blame for bringing up all these issues.”

Read Part Two here.

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