Planner’s pay up by $50,000 despite city vow|[10/21/05]

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 21, 2005

After saying in August that no municipal employee would receive more than a 6 percent raise, Vicksburg officials met in closed session the next month and awarded Paul Rogers, the city’s strategic planner, a boost of at least 50 percent.

Thursday, Mayor Laurence Leyens and South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman explained that Rogers was a crucial city employee and the increase was necessary to keep him from retiring.

North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield said he had opposed the raise during a September executive session discussion.

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&#8220It’s hard for me to justify to certain employees why we take bread off of their tables to put steak on someone else’s,” Mayfield said.

The increase was brought to light by John Shorter, a candidate for mayor this year and a frequent speaker at city board meetings.

Shorter said he obtained the information through a written request under Mississippi’s Open Records Act because, he said, the city’s officials have shown they can’t be trusted.

When The Vicksburg Post requested the same information in writing on Thursday, the response was that exact figures might not be available for two weeks, the maximum delay allowed under the state law that makes compensation of all public employees a public record.

Leyens and Beauman, however, did confirm the hike that takes Rogers’ pay to approximately $150,000 per year, up about $50,000. The mayor is paid $73,500 a year and the aldermen are each paid $58,800.

As strategic planner, Rogers handles the city’s insurance plans, its finances and buys the natural gas for the city’s utility service, among other duties. South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman said Rogers does the work of three people.

&#8220Paul will, in this fiscal year, pay for his salary two to three times,” Beauman said.

During August hearings, Leyens said it was a tight year, that city employee numbers would be reduced and that only merit-based raises not exceeding 6 percent would be awarded in the year starting Oct. 1. Rogers’ raise came before that, but Mayfield still had reservations.

The city laid off nine people last week who were in the Department of Human Services, which no longer exists, because of budget constraints. Also, Mayfield, who took office in July, said that he does not really know what Rogers’ responsibilities are, but believes they could be contracted out.

Leyens and Beauman are in their second four-year terms. Leyens said because Rogers has been with the city for 28 years and was formerly the city clerk, his knowledge is invaluable. &#8220He saved us $250,000 with a subtle thing in a policy about overlapping insurance coverage,” Leyens said.

Rogers said his pay has been a topic of discussion since 1977 when he was hired as a deputy clerk to create an information technology department.

&#8220My pay’s been a controversy ever since I started working here,” Rogers said. &#8220They started me out at $20,000, which was one of the highest-paid positions.”

Rogers confirmed that he was considering retiring from the city because the pay is much better in the private sector. However, when Leyens and Beauman offered him a salary he felt was competitive, he decided to stay another year.

Rogers retired once from the city, in July 1999. In the months following, he said the city did not play the gas market right and ended up with a million-dollar gas bill.

Beauman called Rogers the &#8220gas guru” because he watches the gas market very closely to predict the best time to buy.

City officials said Vicksburg is one of the only cities left in the state that purchases gas and sells it straight to residents, which keeps the price of natural gas lower.

&#8220We can’t afford to lose him right now,” Leyens said, adding that he and Beauman &#8220don’t think any human being exists that understands municipal law, municipal accounting and gas speculation” like Rogers does.

Under Mississippi’s Open Meetings law, discussions of personnel matters, including wages for specific employees, may be made in closed session. Votes, however, must be made in open session or on the record.

Beauman said he is confident the city complied with the law.