BY HL&T STAFF — A 15 percent raise for Hyattsville City Treasurer Elaine Stookey isn’t sitting very well with some city workers who are facing a reduction in health benefits.
The city council votes on staff salaries and any adjustments to them in open session. But negotiations fall under the umbrella of “personnel issues” and are handled in closed session. In the last year, closed sessions during council meetings have become routine.
Stookey was hired in August 2010 with an annual salary of $93,500. The one-year contract was renewed, with a 3 percent raise, in September 2011.
Mayor Marc Tartaro sponsored a March 26 motion to increase her salary to $111,524. It passed – but not before public comments from two police officers. Hyattsville Fraternal Order of Police President Patrick O’Hagan and Vice President Zach Nemser said that they objected to the raise, in large part, because it comes on the heels of a proposal to change how the city pays for employee health care.
Tartaro countered later in the meeting that the benefits change would not adversely affect the majority of staff. But O’Hagan said in an interview that the proposal would lock in health care at today’s prices, with employees expected to cover any increases in the future.
“You tell us we are strapped financially, so you are cutting benefits to employees, ” Nemser told the council before the vote. “And on the other hand a city employee threatens to quit and asks for a 15 percent raise.”
The motion justified the increase because it is more in line with what city treasurers are paid in nearby municipalities of comparable size such as Bowie, Greenbelt and Laurel. But O’Hagan said the city council has rejected just that sort of comparison when considering other salary and benefit issues.
“We’re outraged by this,” said O’Hagan. He called the motion “highly insulting to every city employee. And it displayed poor leadership.”
O’Hagan also questioned the timing of the raise, which came at the midpoint of her contract. Other employees have gotten mid-contract bumps – including, during the same meeting, acting Public Works Director Julia McTague – but that’s because they have taken over the duties of department heads who resigned.
Stookey’s 18-month tenure makes her one of the city’s longest-serving department heads. Over the last year, Hyattsville has been wracked by several high-level resignations, including its city administrator, assistant city administrator and the directors of both public works and recreation. The city clerk departs at the end of this month.
The salary flap comes as the city council was poised to begin work on the 2013 budget request, a time when input from the city treasurer is crucial.
Stookey did not respond to the Hyattsville Life & Times request for a comment.
With reporting by Karen Riley, Paula Minaert and Susie Currie