The Turlock Irrigation District Board of Directors on Tuesday voted to rescind raises granted to six employees under the leadership of former General Manager Larry Weis.
According to TID Interim General Manager Casey Hashimoto, after review it was found that five district managerial, supervisory, professional and confidential employees had received merit pay increases. The board earlier this year approved a policy that no MSPC employees would receive such raises.
A sixth employee received a raise which was, “inconsistent with the additional scope of work, experience, and external and internal pay structures.”
According to Hashimoto, the raises were agreed upon at a meeting where Weis and all TID assistant general managers were present, but Weis acted without the approval of all of the AGMs.
“The decision was already made by Larry (Weis) that this was going through, that this was the rationale,” Hashimoto said. “There was no discussion, there was no consensus.”
Letters were sent out to the six employees notifying them of the error. On Tuesday, all six appealed the decision to rescind the pay increases, but a split board upheld the move.
“I feel we got hoodwinked on this,” said TID Board President Rob Santos. “When we specifically said, ‘no merit pay’ and we specifically told Larry (Weis) not to fill some positions that were filled, and at the twelfth hour those weren’t listened to. That’s how I feel about it.”
Directors Ron Macedo and Charles Fernandes were opposed to the rescission, arguing that what was done was done and, while the district will need to examine pay in the future, the six salary increases should stand.
“I have a real concern with what’s going on here,” Macedo said. “I think the board has acted a little bit hastily here. I think we’ve made a mistake in how we’ve handled this.”
Macedo said that the board should stand by the actions of the former GM and not penalize employees for his error. At the same time, he argued that TID would need to investigate the entire district’s pay policies in the future.
“It’s a black and white issue to me,” Director Joe Alamo said. “We’ve got to stand behind the board policy.”
Though the policy is clear-cut, Jason Hicks, the TID Transportation and Facilities department manager, took to the podium to defend his pay increase.
In a year’s time, Hicks was promoted twice, advancing from managing two employees to 24 and a corresponding increase in duties. He said the promotions drove him to work even harder in his job and he gratefully accepted 23 percent and 24 percent increases in salary, both of which left him at 49 percent of the pay scale for his position.
“Do you want to punish an employee who has been working very hard for the district?” Hicks asked directors. “ .. Should I be the one punished for the mistake of someone else?”
According to Hicks, Hashimoto said in his letter that the pay he was granted was inconsistent with the increase in responsibilities, and out of alignment with pay for similar work in other utilities and industries.
The board voted to rescind Hicks’ pay increase – and three of the other raises – by a 3-2 vote, with Directors Santos, Alamo, and Michael Frantz in favor, and Macedo and Fernandes opposed. Fernandes voted in favor of rescinding two salary increases.
The decision came down to board policy for those in favor of rescinding the raises, even though cases could be made that employees deserved the raises.
“I’m sure every employee could make a good case for a raise,” Santos said. “Again, this is not about the person, for me it’s about the actions that were taken.”
Tuesday’s board action brought to light a number of possible inequities in the district’s pay policy, with accusations of overpaid managers – managing one or two employees – and inequitable merit pay distribution raising eyebrows at the dais. Currently, there are no uniform criteria to determine the amount of merit pay distributed to an employee.
Santos queried why employees always seem to get a 15 percent salary increase when their titles change or they move classifications, when the pay scale calls for between a 5 and 15 percent increase. Also, employees never seem to receive pay cuts, even when assuming fewer duties.
The TID Payroll and Compensation Committee will examine these issues in the future.
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