The city of Sunnyside has heard from the Washington State Auditor's Office regarding a 5 percent "step-up pay" that was proposed recently for Deputy Police Chief Phil Schenck.
The issue was brought before council at the Monday, Jan. 23, meeting during which City Manager Mark Gervasi requested a temporary pay increase for Schenck's service while Sunnyside Police Chief Ed Radder was on medical leave last year.
The retroactive pay increase would have amounted to more than $1,460 in compensation for taking on additional responsibilities.
Newly elected Sunnyside City Councilman Jason Raines was the only council member to vote in favor of the compensation for the deputy police chief at the Jan. 23 meeting. Ironically, the freshman lawmaker was the first-ever Sunnyside City Council candidate to receive an endorsement from the local police guild while campaigning last fall.
The remaining council members who voted against granting the "step-up pay" were more cautious, all indicating they wanted to check with the state auditor's office to learn if such a retroactive pay increase would be in violation of the state constitution.
Yesterday (Wednesday), the city council members were provided the answer by the State Auditor's Office.
Dana Mason of the Washington State Auditor's Office said the city would be in violation of state law if compensation is granted "...after services are rendered.
"The city must have written policies or agreements in place prior to paying additional compensation to the deputy police chief for extra duties performed when the police chief was on medical leave."
Mason said compensation after the services are rendered without a prior enacted policy is a gift of public funds.
Raines, yesterday, said he "...would be in favor of a policy or procedure where those assuming the duties of a department head, due to an absence or any other reason, can be compensated."
He said, "It's been standard operating procedure in the past and I would like a formal policy in place."
The compensation, according to Mason, would have to be be defined differently than a bonus because state law says, "The 'bonus' has to be compensation that is being paid for identified performance goals. Goals must be clearly defined in policy or contract and be measurable."
Raines said providing extra compensation when one assumes extra duties, however, "...is a no-brainer.
"It's our responsibility to take care of our employees."
Reacting to what the auditor's office said, Gervasi responded, "I realize there are certain things that by state law you can or cannot do."
He and Raines were disappointed that Schenck cannot be provided the compensation for "wearing two hats."
"The deputy chief did a great job in the chief's absence," said Raines.
However, both agree that the best thing to do is to move forward.
Raines said, "I will be pushing to enact a policy (for the future)."