Part II: When 100 City Hall workers out of 4,500 get raises, that’s patronage at its finest

Part II: In hard times, when everybody is supposed to sacrifice, somehow a lucky few get pay raises. When it happens at City Hall, it’s the people’s business. This story, first shared with readers of the Dave Lieber Watchdog column in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, led to a morale crisis at City Hall. Patronage is alive and well in 21st century Texas, even in a city that prides itself on doing things “the Fort Worth way.”

For most of the nearly 4,000 non-Civil Service employees at Fort Worth City Hall, a salary freeze the past three years prevented annual pay raises. But records show that a select group of employees got to come in from the cold.

At least 106 got raises during this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, city records show.

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

Of these, 76 saw their duties and titles altered — called “reclassifications” — and received raises. An additional 19 in various departments got rare merit raises. Eleven more received “market adjustment” raises, meaning that the city didn’t want them to leave for higher-paying jobs but that their duties stayed the same.

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Raises for these 11 — all are either department directors or assistant directors — will likely cause the most head-shaking in City Hall. Of the 11, five got raises of 10 percent or higher. But not all directors and assistant directors got raises, and not all departments were so lucky.

When these raises were given, the general mood among the rest of the employees was that a salary freeze meant shared sacrifice by everybody, top to bottom, during hard times. But that concept took an unpaid furlough (something City Hall employees actually had to do).

City Hall officials are not happy that this information is public, they acknowledge, although they quickly released the information to The Watchdog in response to an open-records request.

Interim City Manager Tom Higgins said in an interview Friday, “I think this is going to come as a surprise to some of our employees.”

Higgins, who says he knew about some but not all of the 11 leadership raises, worries about morale.

“If somebody got a raise out there for doing the same job, that’s what the employees are concerned about.”

Speaking of his city employees, he said, “I know to the guys out there who are working, and it’s snowing and 20 degrees, and they’re down in the ditch and fixing a water pipe, and they see this — I know they’re disappointed.

“As city manager now, this is troubling to me,” he said, looking over the long list of employees who received raises. (Higgins took over as interim manager this year. Some of the raises didn’t occur on his watch.)

Under City Hall’s structure, raises are not approved by the City Council but by city staffers. For directors and assistant directors, the raises were recommended by assistant city managers responsible for the particular department. They report to the city manager, but the city manager doesn’t have to sign off on the raises, Higgins said. He supports assistants who made the recommendations because, he said, “I’m confident that each one was done right and for the right reasons.”

The Watchdog reported two weeks ago that 10 employees received annual raises in the spring when their jobs were reclassified. Turns out that was the tip of the iceberg. These raises occurred in an environment of fiscal challenges: The city faced an estimated $31 million deficit for the coming year. Departments were consolidated, and about 165 jobs were eliminated.

In alphabetical order, here are the 11 managers who received raises, listed with title and percentage increase:

Brandon Bennett, code compliance director, 7 percent

Feleshia Cochran, assistant public facilities/events director, 10 percent

Wayne Corum, equipment services director, 2 percent

Sebastian Fichera, assistant water director, 3 percent

David Hall, assistant planning and development director, 10 percent

Richard Neuhaus, assistant fire director, 4.5 percent

Walter Peoples, assistant finance director, 2 percent

Horatio Porter, city budget officer, (two raises), 12.5 percent

Betty Tanner, assistant public facilities/events director, 10 percent

William Welstead, airport manager, 15 percent

Sandra Youngblood, assistant parks and community services director, 3.7 percent

Departments where top leaders did not get a raise include Library, Housing and Economic Development, Human Resources and Transportation and Public Works.

“The story is painful and something that will have an effect on our employees, and I take this seriously,” Higgins said.

He added, “We wish during this time we had a more normal pay environment, but given our fiscal challenges, we weren’t able to recommend pay increases for all of our employees.”

There is some happy news. Last week, the city announced a new budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. The city staff is proposing 3 percent raises for everyone.

Read Part One here.

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