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Pay raises of city employees under special review

Sunnyside City Manager Mark Gervasi, who's only been on the job a few months and has barely gotten his feet wet, has been tasked with conducting a special review to determine if the pay raises of more than a half dozen city employees were given in accordance with all applicable regulations.

A special investigative committee was formed earlier this month by Sunnyside Mayor Jim Restucci for the purpose of reviewing employee payroll changes from 2007 to 2010 in an effort to discover if the employees legally received the pay raises. The committee met for the first time yesterday to discuss the issue, and directed Gervasi to review the pay raises for seven positions...the city's information technology specialist, the associate planner, custodian building maintenance, public works administrative assistant, associate engineer, traffic safety coordinator and human resources assistant to the city manager.

Serving on the committee are Deputy Mayor Nick Paulakis, Councilman Don Vlieger and Councilwoman Theresa Hancock.

Gervasi told the trio he had already asked the Washington State Auditor's Office to review the city's policies in terms of pay grades and pay steps. But the auditor's office advised him the review is beyond its scope.

Hancock suggested Spectrum Group LLC might be an outside entity that could help with the review in an unbiased manner.

The group, last year, conducted a review of the city's organization and Hancock said she felt the agency might provide recommendations to the city in regard to pay scale and step changes that could be acceptable to employees and the Sunnyside City Council.

"She (Dema Harris of Spectrum Group) did a very good job on the last report, although not all the changes recommended have been made," said Hancock.

Vlieger, favoring a more hands-on approach, intimated he believes it is the council's job to get to the bottom of the issue. "It's our job to find out if the pay raises occurred outside the normal step increases," he said.

He said he wants to know if pay raises were given in violation of RCW.

Gervasi hinted that it might be helpful to have an outside entity assisting the council with the review, providing a different perspective.

Hancock was in favor of that idea, as was Paulakis. Both council members said an outside entity would be able to advise the council with "wisdom" on matters regarding municipal pay.

"Our insurance carrier might be able to advise us on the matter," said Paulakis.

He added, "I think it would behoove us to have a third party look at this to eliminate questions."

Vlieger countered by citing the RCW regarding council's duty to decide pay for employees.

"We've been charged to find out what happened and I'm comfortable having Mark (Gervasi) review what happened."

Hancock said, "I know it's causing employees angst to know we're talking about personnel matters...I want the process to be completed in a formal matter with an outside resource."

The three-person committee reached an agreement on the matter, stating Gervasi could conduct a review of the pay raises given to the seven employees, focusing on who authorized the raises and whether or not the pay raises were approved by council. Gervasi was asked to call either the Spectrum Group or the Washington Cities Insurance Authority if he needed direction or advice.

The committee agreed to meet again Thursday, Jan. 6, 2011, at 4 p.m. in the executive conference room at city hall. At the meeting the group is expected to discuss policies and how step raises are given.

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