Letter to the Editor

Your view: A closer look

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

In his letter to you of December 31, 2003, our City Manager Doug Friend responded to my reference to his selective granting of 50 percent salary increases to senior City Hall personnel. He said, "I can defend each increase."

Well, since he's asking the people of Sikeston to approve the largest tax increase in our history, and give him an additional $36 million with no strings attached, wouldn't this be a good time to do that?

Doug Friend never sought the approval of the City Council, nor even informed them, that he was handing out these windfall increases. He hasn't defended these increases to anyone so far, and hasn't had to because they were buried in the budget.

What makes them all the more questionable is that while Doug Friend was so generous to those close to him, he turned then to the DPS and unilaterally eliminated overtime for Sergeants, thus cutting their take-home pay by as much as $10,000 each. Now he says he needs $36 million to, among other things, restore them to where they were before he did that.

Beyond that, and once again while he was distributing 50 percent salary increases to a select few, he prepared budgets (FY'03 & FY'04) that offered no funding at all for Cost of Living Increases for all other city employees. Those would at least have kept them apace with inflation.

This neglect of the majority of city employees focuses even more attention on the increases he was simultaneously granting to the senior administrative staff at City Hall.

It used to be that the standards of leadership had it that the Captain was the last to leave the ship, and a General the last to be bedded down after the troop. This team has turned that on its head.

It sounds for all the world like Management a la Enron. The top boys get theirs first and let the little guys fend as best they can for what's left. So yes, I would like to hear that defense.

It's important, because the police and firemen of the DPS risk their lives for us. The greatest personal danger faced by the people who got extravagant pay hikes from our City Manager would be an occasional paper cut. Why in heaven's name didn't we take care of the cops and firemen first?

Instead, the City Manager prevented DPS from spending even their authorized budget, created an artificial manpower crisis, and closed down the Main Street Fire station to set the stage to request a raise in taxes to come to their aid.

What is the point of an elected City Council approving spending targets in a city budget if the administrative staff systematically ignores them?

Furthermore, Doug Friend increased the number of staff in each administrative office. That means that each person in admin is now getting paid more to do less (Doug do you really think the City Clerk needs 7 1/2 weeks of paid vacation?)

Overall, the total cost of administration in Sikeston's city government is currently double what it was, as a percentage of total spending, in Steve Borgsmiller's last year. Are we to believe that this administration is providing that much better service to the people of Sikeston than Steve Borgsmiller's? What examples would anyone point to?

In the nine years Steve Borgsmiller served this community, he never had an unbalanced budget. They all ran surpluses, including his final budget that I signed in my last year on the council, serving as Mayor.

In the first budget both prepared and administered by Doug Friend, there was a deficit of $767,381 (if you do not count one-time donations as revenue which you should not because they do not recur.) When he assumed the office of City Manager, Doug Friend went on a spending spree for City Hall that would put a drunken sailor to shame. And, despite Carroll Couch's representations at council meetings, most of this increase was entirely controllable. They both knew better.

Let's put these administrative pay hikes in some perspective: Today, there are four city department heads who make a higher salary than Steve Borgsmiller made in 2001, his final year as City Manager. Doug Friend makes 50 percent more.

Beyond just salaries, the total compensation package for senior city staff, including benefits and allowances, has shot skyward. This happened at a time when our City Manager told the council and the community that the budget was tight because the city was "living within our means." (I'm ticked off about it Doug because I believed you)

To consider pay hikes for senior staff alone, the following compares the salaries (top line) and total compensation package (second line) of the senior city staff between FY 2000 and the current budget year of FY 2004. All these figures were obtained from the city through Missouri's Open Records Law. They are public record and open to all for the asking:

FY 2000
FY 2004

City Manager

$ 57,975.25

$ 89,900.00

(Borgsmiller & Friend)

$ 77,372.27

$128,159.00 *

Director, Govt. Services $ 32,800.88

$ 46,500.00

(Linda Lowes)

$ 42.012.90

$ 60,936.35

City Clerk

$ 45,691.15

$ 75,000.00

(Carroll Couch)

$ 56,636.91

$ 93,970.85

Chief of DPS

$ 52,343.24

$ 66,000.00

(Leist & Juden) $ 63,712.62

$ 83,634.35

Dir Public Works

$ 41,453.65

$ 49,500.00

(Friend & Bridger) $ 55,045.46

$ 67,900.10

Dir, Econ Development

$ 56,181.70

$ 64,900.00

(Bill Green)

$ 74,579.46

$ 90,283.75

- Package for City Manager includes an additional pension fund contribution and a $7,000 personal expense account. This personal expense account, called "Community Representation" is indicative in itself. In his final year, Steve Borgsmiller only found it necessary to spend $271 for his personal, official expenses. In the year just ended, Doug Friend spent $6,975.83. He's budgeted it for another $7,000 this year.

* Beyond that it should be noted that our City Manager does not work full time at the job. He teaches a course at SAHEC in violation of Section 78.610 RSMO which states that a city manager for a third class city, "shall devote his entire time to the duties of his office." The City Attorney has neglected to report this to the City Council. He works for the City Manager.

I'd be particularly interested, furthermore, to hear a defense for the salary spread between the City Clerk and the Chief of the DPS. Does anyone really think it's appropriate for a man who supervises 2 people to be paid $10,000 more than a man who leads 70 people, many of whom put their lives on the line in the field? Defend that if you would please Doug.

Generally though, I'd like to hear why the City Manager thinks it's appropriate to secretly hand out these pay raises (without consulting City Council), ignore most all the other city employees, put an administrative choke hold on spending at the very DPS he now says he wants to rescue, claim then that there's a budget crisis and ask the City Council and this community to approve an additional $36 million for him in new taxes.

Time to make the case Mr. City Manager.

Josh Bill