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Brandi Jewett, Forum Communications, Published October 02 2012

Grand Forks city employee raises held pending policy review

GRAND FORKS - City department heads here won’t see a penny of their 2013 raise until a policy review of employee raise and promotion procedures is completed by the City Council.

The discussion and review of employee raises and promotions comes in response to a nearly $25,000 raise Mayor Mike Brown gave to Community and Government Relations Officer Pete Haga earlier this year.

“I’m extremely disappointed in what happened,” Council President Hal Gershman said. “I’ve never seen an issue so universally concern the people of Grand Forks. … It goes right through everyone.”

The council approved an amended motion to freeze all department head salaries at their 2012 totals until a review is completed and potential new policies are created.

The original motion, proposed by Gershman, sought to freeze the salaries of all city employees earning $75,000 or more.

Daryl Hovland, director of human resources, cautioned the council against approving the original motion.

“I don’t want the employees to carry the load of something that someone may be upset about,” he said. Hovland suggested the council freeze department head salaries instead.

The motion passed with one dissenter, council member Ken Vein.

“This position is not a department head,” Vein said before the vote, referring to Haga’s position. “We shouldn’t be holding them hostage over this issue.”

Raise process

Haga, who has worked for the city since 1997 and served in his current role since 2002, received the raise after Brown requested the city Human Resource Department conduct a position review.

“Pete did not ask for this,” Brown said. “I was righting a wrong, and I stand by my decision.”

At the time of his review process, Haga was named as one of the finalists for UND’s newly created vice president of university and public affairs. In his position, Haga oversees the city Public Information Center and coordinates with local schools, nonprofit organizations, businesses and legislative representatives at the local, state and national levels.

Upon reviewing Haga’s position, Hovland recommended a raise that put the salary of the community and government relations officer at $95,534 and in line with the city’s department heads — a majority of whom make more than $100,000 a year.

Haga moved up to the department head salary range as a result of comparing his position to other comparable positions within the city in terms of duties, responsibilities and other factors, according to Hovland.

Moving forward

The use of the term “department head” in regard to Haga’s position proved to be a sticking point with some members of the council.

Council member Bret Weber said he felt Haga’s raise hinged on the phrase, and made a motion asking Brown to bring a formal proposal declaring Haga a department head to the council.

Hovland confirmed Haga is not a department head, pointing out no paperwork for the creation of a department head was brought forward to the council.

To move the issue forward, Hovland said that using department head in his recommendation was “a bad choice of words.”

If Haga were approved as a department head by the council, his department, the Public Information Center, would consist of 2½ people, according to council member Doug Christensen.

Christensen called the creation of a 2½-person department “a bit silly” and was joined in his dissent by Terry Bjerke.

“We don’t need to create anymore departments,” Bjerke said.

The motion was defeated by a vote of five to two.

The council expects to have the review complete by Jan. 1, 2013, when the department heads would receive their raises.