Newell blasts Kelly over raise issue

PARKERSBURG – After no discussion was held on a potential pay increase for city employees at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Mayor Bob Newell accused Councilman John Kelly of playing politics with the issue.

“If he’s going to run for office on our dime, then he needs to resign from City Council and run for the Legislature,” Newell said after the meeting.

Kelly, who is a Republican candidate for a 10th District House of Delegates seat, called the mayor’s comment a “cheap shot.”

“Doing my job on City Council has nothing to do with running for the Legislature,” he said.

The $26 million 2014-15 budget was approved by council 8-1, with Kelly opposed, during Tuesday’s meeting in council chambers.

Kelly was one of two council members who voted against referring the administration’s proposed budget to council for a vote last month after two evenings of budget hearings. After the vote, he said one reason he opposed it was the lack of a pay increase for city workers, something he did not bring up during the hearings.

Newell said when he presented the budget to council last month that he would consider pay increases in August, after the cash carryover amount from the current fiscal year was known. Last year’s carryover came up short of the estimate, leading to cuts in spending.

On Tuesday, Newell passed out a chart to council outlining how much it would cost to increase employees’ pay by 1 percent to 3 percent, in half-percent increments, based, he said, on some council members’ comments. The expenses ranged from $152,712 to $458,135, which would have had to come from other portions of the budget.

Neither Kelly nor any other council members addressed the figures nor offered any further discussion on the budget prior to the vote.

Newell said it was “very insincere” of Kelly to say he wanted to give raises to the employees if he didn’t intend to follow through.

“I knew he didn’t mean it,” the mayor said. “The problem is, councilpeople say these things as if they supported raises. … They had the perfect opportunity tonight to make a motion to do any of those things.”

Kelly said since Tuesday was the first time he’d seen the figures, he hadn’t had time to study them or consider from where the money would come.

“It’s not something that we could really have taken action on this evening,” he said. “Nobody was really prepared to do it.”

Kelly said his desire to see employees receive a raise is in no way related to his campaign for the House. He said this is his 14th year on council, and the first time employees have not gotten some kind of pay increase.

“Sometimes it was a good increase. Sometimes it was only their longevity adjustment,” Kelly said. “It’s not political. History backs it up.”

Councilwoman Kim Coram said after the meeting that she thinks employees deserve raises in a responsible manner, but did not feel Tuesday was the time to act on it.

“I think we need some time to digest it,” she said.

In other business, council voted 8-1 to approve a reclassification of the information technology coordinator’s job with a starting salary of $41,000. Councilman Roger Brown cast the dissenting vote, saying after the meeting that he felt the salary should have been set at $36,000, the low end of a range approved by the Personnel Committee. If someone applied who was qualified for a higher rate of pay, it could have been adjusted, he said.

Coram made a presentation on volunteer work done in recent years to establish hiking and biking trails at Johnson T. Janes Park. Six volunteers were recognized, including Alex Eckhart, whose Eagle Scout project consisted of building a bridge in the park with the help of private donations.