‘Salaried’ should have meant salaried

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 10, 2011

In July 2009, in executive session, the Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted to hire Kenya Burks as Mayor Paul Winfield’s chief of staff. South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman argued against the hire and the position with an annual salary of $70,000.

Beauman said then it’s not a good time to create more spending and salaries, especially in times of pinching pennies on all levels of government.

Burks’ hire passed 2-1 in executive session and her pay was increased by 3 percent later when she was among city employees receiving pay increases.

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A general rule for salaried employees is that they receive a certain amount of money each pay period, whether that employee works 70 hours or 30. Most salaried employees are exempt from receiving overtime pay.

So the news came as quite a shock — even to Burks, she said — that the same two people who voted to hire her voted last week to pay her nearly $10,000 in back pay for overtime.

Winfield said Burks’ duties include facilitating meetings in his office and promoting administrative policies — at nearly $80,000 a year.

The tough part yet is that Burks might not be the only salaried worker for the City of Vicksburg to be owed money. Burks was entitled to the overtime pay, city officials said, because her position is classified as that of a non-exempt employee who does not exercise independent judgment, meaning she is not a supervisor.

Of course, we wonder what the upshot could be. How much could this apparent oversight end up costing the city, the taxpayers? Winfield said 35 to 50 of the city’s 550 employes “are probably salary non-exempt.” He said that before adding, “but that is just a guess.”

For argument’s sake, take Burks’ nearly $10,000 in overtime pay. If there are 35 salaried employees who are owed back pay, the city is on the hook for $350,000. If Winfield’s high-end “guess” — which is frightening in its own right — is correct, taxpayers are responsible for half a million dollars.

Hopefully, Beauman’s thinking will prevail should this kind of case return. And even if a hire is not unanimous, then hopefully the administration will implement a plan where this situation cannot reoccur.

It shouldn’t have happened in the first place.