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VIDEO COLUMN: The Nitty Gritty on the SPD backpay issue

The information surrounding the possible backpay owed to some Statesboro Police Officers has stirred controversy and caused a divide in the city, but for many, it has been difficult to follow because of the immense detail concerning the issue. For that reason, AllOnGeorgia has compiled a video column to break down the arguments point by point. If you would prefer to read the text of the video, you may do so below the video. The documents from open records requests, however, are only in the video. More background on the issue is available here.

 


 

Thousands of you read the AllOnGeorgia article detailing the many questions regarding possible back pay owed to several Statesboro Police Officers. While we brought the issue to the City Council at the December meeting, questions remain as both AllOnGeorgia and the City of Statesboro continue to look into the issue.

A few City employees and elected officials have attempted to justify the failure to pay Statesboro Police Officers who were promoted from officer to advanced patrol officer during the years 2009-2014, but every defense seems to leave more questions than before we started.
So today, I will break it down point by point.
Let’s start with the basics:
First, what’s the difference between a raise and a promotion?
A raise is an increase in pay, but is not necessarily accompanied with a promotion. Employees can maintain their position, but see an increase in pay.
A promotion, on the other hand, is a move to an entirely new position within a company or an agency.

This distinction is important as we consider the pay scale Statesboro City employees operate under. If you consider this Authorized Personnel Positions sheet provided by the City of Statesboro, you see that a police officer has always been a (14) step on the scale while an advanced patrol officer is a (15). This has been the case since well-before 2009.

If you then reference the wage scales from 2009-2015, you’ll see that step 14 has ALWAYS BEEN associated with different pay than a STEP 15.

Open records request from the Statesboro Police Department show the promotional process for the years 2010 and 2012 as follows:
In 2010, it reads, “after 18 months of employment, an officer is eligible for APO. The officer must have a recommendation from his or her supervisor, no more than 2 discipline reports of written reprimand, and be enrolled in a training program with the intent to complete the POST designated courses.
In 2012, that policy was amended to say “6 months after being released from probationary status as a patrol officer, an officer is eligible for APO. A candidate must submit a letter of from his or her supervisor detailing the candidates work performance, work/history experience, and performance as it relates to the mission statement and core values of the agency. The letter must be received and approval granted by the Command Staff before the Patrol Officer is granted the rank of APO.

It wasn’t until nearly 5 years after the first APO was denied a pay step increase that then-Director Wendell Turner was able to change the entire policy manual before the council to protect promoted officers. Now, officers promoted to advanced patrol officers must serve their probationary period and then complete a series of training courses before seeing a promotion and pay increase.

Regardless of the year, every policy manual indicates that a move from an officer to an advanced patrol officer is a promotion. It is a change in position, rank and responsibility.

The move from officer to advanced patrol officer is not a raise, even if it is argued that the promotion was only based on merit. It’s accompanied by an additional stripe on their sleeve, which all of the affected officers were given. How many other industries do you know of where someone moves to a new position entirely, with more responsibility, but does not see an increase? And how can the city say that someone who was once being paid on a (14) step and is now on a (15) step is undeserving of that wage? Is this wage scale by the City of Statesbor discretionary?

We are talking about upwards of 18 officers still employed by the Statesboro Police Department that have been denied that wage increase.

And why is it that an APO that moved to corporal moved to the next pay step, as did a corporal to a detective, and a detective to a sergeant and so on? Why is it just advanced patrol officers that did not see their pay step increase during the period 2009-2014?

There are more problems with the arguments presented by those resisting backpay.
According to the open records request obtained in December, council approved city-wide raises in July of 2011. Hourly employees saw a 2% increase while salaried employees went up by 1%.

Two bonuses were provided in December 2012 and June 2013, before another citywide raise was approved in July 2013. The most recent citywide raise occurred in July 2014, where all city employees saw a 2.5% increase. Councilman Phil Boyum has argued that the entire city was under a pay freeze and that is why these officers were given the shaft. The budget documents do back up his claims in print, but the actions by council and HR do not –which again leave me asking, is the pay scale discretionary?

The City Clerk acknowledges that several people were given promotions during the pay freeze and compensated according to that promotion. If the budgets provided for a pay freeze, why did they promote anyone?

Council minutes show several step increases and individual pay raises during that same period as well . One for mechanics and drivers at 5% in September of 2013. And another pay increase for the IT department employees in August 2013. Additionally, other employees of the Statesboro Police saw increases during that period including a major and the promotion of then Director Wendell Turner to the highest position in the department. Is council going to argue none of those promotions saw a pay increase?

Those making the argument that all raises were frozen during the period ranging 2009-2014 are not being completely honest about the situation.

Is the City of Statesboro abiding by their own rules and budget constraints or are they arbitrarily applying it when council sees fit?

The pay scale under the City of Statesboro is not an easy one to understand, but one important thing to remember is that had this pay problem simply been a raise issue, officers would be moving left to right on the wage scale, not up and down. Instead, the city has basically changed the trajectory of these officers wages for the rest of their career because they weren’t properly compensated at the right time. Because of this, any right-directional move is likely not the highest earning potential of that officer . In addition, many new hire officers are making more than some of our tenured Advanced Patrol Officers.

The argument that this was dictated by a pay freeze is simply not justifiable. Open records of communications between former Director Wendell Turner and the HR department indicate that no one knows why the APO pay was suspended, and officers have attempted to resolve this issue with the HR department over the last five years – though some correspondence does appear to be missing from the All On Georgia request fulfilled by the City of Statesboro.

I want to emphasize again that this has nothing to do with the operations or integrity of the Statesboro Police Department. The issue lies in City Hall.

When I spoke briefly with the City Attorney on the issue, he said the city was not all that concerned as they don’t believe there has been any wrongdoing. He did acknowledge, though, that he had not reviewed all the documents pertaining to the issue.

I’m not an attorney, but the internet provides for several cases of a similar nature around the country where officers are suing their cities over back pay issues exactly like this. The City should not only be concerned over the legal ramifications of what has happened, but also the ethical side of how we are treating our officers.

The problem since this debacle came to light in the media is that some have made it a witch-hunt . Councilmen and city employees alike have said the information is false. You’ve seen it all here today. Tell me, do you think it is false?

Jessica Szilagyi is a Statewide Contributor for AllOnGeorgia.com. She focuses primarily on state and local politics as well as issues in law enforcement. She has a background in Political Science with a focus in local government and has a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia. Jessica is a "Like It Or Not" contributor for Fox5 in Atlanta and has two blogs of her own: The Perspicacious Conservative and "Hair Blowers to Lawn Mowers."

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