Pay raises voted in over mayor’s objections

East Point’s controversial pay-for-performance raises for city employees have been approved by a City Council vote, overriding Mayor Earnestine Pittman’s veto.

In an April 18 executive session, Pittman questioned the collective $328,000 in performance raises. The mayor said the raises shouldn’t be granted without a six-month audit, as stipulated by a budget approval amendment in June.

On Monday night, the council disagreed, voting 6-2 to proceed with the pay increases. Of the city’s 501 employees, 380 will receive the raises.

Countering Pittman’s opposition, Councilman Lance Rhodes said the the council had no choice but to implement the pay raises. He cited East Point city code that said raises will be granted after the city has established a salary system.

“The only way not to implement the raises was not funding the raise amount in the budget, or removing the pay-for-performance program,” he said.

In her veto, Pittman claimed the city was not in sound financial shape and shouldn’t spend the money. Pittman said a recently completed audit was misleading in stating that the city had a surplus.

“The city also used an additional $3.75 million from an AT&T settlement to pay down expenses in the general fund,” she wrote in her veto notification.

Pittman said the city’s pension plan was another reason to deny the raises. She said the city’s unfunded liability for the plan is $57 million, which has to be fully funded over the next 12 years.

The pay-raise controversy is the latest disagreement between the council and mayor, with their differences escalating since the beginning of the year, often in heated exchanges. While Pittman has said the city has severe financial difficulties, the council has disputed her findings.

At Monday night’s meeting, a resident asked why raises should be provided during challenged economic times, and why they should be widespread.

“You need to look up the definition of merit raises; it means you earned the raises,” said Jean Wilson, the resident. “All of these employees have not earned these raises.”