Assistant city manager in patronage flap resigns

An assistant city manager at Fort Worth City Hall resigned in October 2011 after Fort Worth Star-Telegram Watchdog columnist Dave Lieber revealed that she had helped orchestrate secret pay raises for a select few employees and top managers.

Her boss, the interim city manager, didn’t even know about most of them.

At the time, most city employees had gone three years without a raise.

Karen Montgomery had served with the city since August 2006.

Former assistant city manager Karen Montgomery

City officials declined to say whether the raises or any other issue led to her resignation, according to the Star-Telegram.

Read about Montgomery’s role here at Watchdog Nation. (Note these stories originally appeared in the Dave Lieber Watchdog column in the Star-Telegram.

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

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

 

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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.

# # #

Dave Lieber shows Americans how to fight back against corporate deceptions in his wonderful book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong. Are you tired of losing time, money and aggravation to all the assaults on our wallets? Learn how to fight back with ease — and win. Get the book here.

Read The Watchdog Nation manifesto here!

Visit Watchdog Nation HeadquartersDave Lieber's Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong

Like Watchdog Nation on Facebook

Watch Watchdog Nation on YouTube

Twitter @DaveLieber

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.

# # #

Dave Lieber shows Americans how to fight back against corporate deceptions in his wonderful book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong. Are you tired of losing time, money and aggravation to all the assaults on our wallets? Learn how to fight back with ease — and win. Get the book here.

Read The Watchdog Nation manifesto here!

 Visit Watchdog Nation HeadquartersDave Lieber's Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong

Like Watchdog Nation on Facebook

Watch Watchdog Nation on YouTube

Twitter @DaveLieber