The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, January 26, 2001


Should town give employees merit increases?

At the January 9 meeting of the board of selectmen, town administrator Madonna McKenzie and the board reached a compromise on determining salary increases for town employees. The solution, proposed by Selectman Doug Stevenson, would make it possible to reward merit without the complications of an evaluation-based salary scale.

Under a system recommended by the personnel board, evaluations would be conducted each year, and an employee must have three satisfactory evaluations (one for each year) to advance to the next step, according to McKenzie. Department heads would evaluate their own employees, with boards and town administrator evaluating the department heads. The selectmen were initially reluctant to implement this process, seeing it as a "step" system rewarding employment longevity rather than performance.

McKenzie: Evaluation-based salary ineffective

Selectman Mike Fitzgerald opened the discussion by voicing support for a system rewarding performance as reflected in evaluations. The difficulty with evaluation-based salary increases, McKenzie explained, is that Carlisle town departments are small (usually one or two employees) and that "every board thinks their employees are the best." If evaluations were to determine wages, the tendency would be for department heads to rate all their employees as "excellent," thus subverting the evaluation process

and resulting in salary inflation.

Selectman John Ballantine asked whether the evaluation process should be controlled at a higher level (i.e. town administrator) so that a system-wide bell-curve could be applied. However, McKenzie pointed out, she is in regular communication with only about half the town employees, and would be unable to evaluate others.

"How to measure meritorious conduct in a department without revenue is another problem," said Ballantine. Evaluation in a municipal context is not as simple as in a for-profit company where sales, profits, or other output measures can be relied on, he conceded.

Selectmen fear "step system"

Referring to difficulties with the step system used for compensating teachers, Fitzgerald expressed disappointment that McKenzie seemed to be recommending a similar approach. "I worry about someone who's been here twelve years and is at the top of the scale, just breezing through."

McKenzie countered that an employee would have to be employed twenty years to reach the top of the scale, with steps taken in three-year increments and the top of the grade a 40 percent increase over the bottom. Each job would be evaluated every three years for salary competitiveness versus other towns, and adjustments would be made to the ranges in response to this evaluation, or as a result of inflation. An employee at the top of the scale would be eligible for increases due to these adjustments in the scale, and possibly for bonuses.

Solution proposed

After hearing McKenzie's recommendations, Selectman Doug Stevenson suggested a second process for introducing merit into the system without revamping the entire proposal. After the evaluations have taken place, department heads could recommend an employee for a merit increase on a separate form collected by the town administrator. After meeting with the department heads, the town administrator would cull the list to those deemed most worthy, and submit those names to the personnel board for salary increases. The selectmen would approve these merit increases at the meeting where they approve salaries for the coming year. After some discussion, the selectmen agreed that this plan answered the major objections to the proposal as first put forward.

Should experience count?

Last year, the personnel board began to implement the recommendations of the wages and salary classification study, which had been undertaken to bring municipal salaries in Carlisle in line with the current market. As of now, each town employee has been placed within their salary range, as recommended by the study, based on longevity. This was an initial step taken with the expectation there would be further adjustments, such as for previous experience or education, as the plan was refined.

Digging in the snow for ConsCom

Although most town employees come in at an entry level where previous experience is irrelevant, some have experience or degrees which in other towns would make them eligible for higher pay. In addition, the current structure makes it difficult to hire new employees with better credentials.

For example, at the January 11 ConsCom meeting, chair Carolyn Kiely and member John Lee had met with the personnel board to fine-tune the salary classification of newly employed ConsCom administrator Sylvia Willard. When Willard took the position last spring, the town's classification study had not been completed, so she was hired at the former administrator's salary. However, the commission believed that level to be unfair in view of Willard's education and prior volunteer experience.

Kiely reported that she had stressed to the personnel board not only the administrative duties but the many site visits required to reconnoiter building proposals and monitor compliance with commission orders regardless of season and weather conditions.

That same day Willard had been observed on Judy Farm Road, checking to see if required revegetation had been accomplished before recommending issuance of an Order of Compliance. "I wondered what she was up to out there digging through the snow," one of the personnel board members exclaimed. "

That graphic example helped the cause, and Kiely reported to ConsCom that the personnel board agreed to change the administrator's position in the salary range. However, this solution would do little to help other town departments facing similar issues. At the selectmen's meeting giving McKenzie the green light to devise a plan increasing compensation for education or experience, Fitzgerald added, "I think you have to take those things into account."

2001 The Carlisle Mosquito