Council splits over suggested pay boost

The small group of citizens attending the Buckley City Council’s June 14 meeting got a bit more than they had bargained for.

A lengthy and contentious sticking point centered upon a proposed amendment to the existing salary scale for exempt and hourly personnel, a move being suggested to accommodate the hiring of a new court clerk.

The ensuing debate caught City Administrator David Schmidt off-guard.

“We advertised for a court clerk and we did not get any qualified applicants for the salary that we were willing to pay,” he said, adding that the city had miscalculated the going rate for those services.

Schmidt said the city’s job posting attracted two qualified applicants, one being Teresa Snyder, a current city employee working for Buckley Municipal Court on a permanent, part-time basis.

Snyder came strongly recommended by Buckley Municipal Court Judge Majorie Tedrick and acting court administrator Kaaren Woods and was offered the clerk’s job.

But, under the terms of the city’s current pay scale, Snyder said, she could make just as much by collecting unemployment benefits.

Mayor Pat Johnson reported that Snyder said she would accept the city post if the salary were increased to $20 per hour. Three members of the City Council objected, noting the city already is having to hire a full-time court administrator, now that Woods is returning to her permanent post in Orting.

These two hirings are an absolute minimum requirement, Schmidt said, due to the court’s load of approximately 350 cases per month.

“While navigating our way through this whole process of replacing Fae Wagner…we came to realize that the job was going to require at least two people to even remotely replace her,” Schmidt said.

He noted the pool of qualified applicants for court clerk positions is not large and most cities pay more than Buckley had offered.

Schmidt alluded to the fact that neither he nor the mayor thought Snyder’s $20 hourly request was unreasonable. Timing also is an issue, as court functions could cease without necessary staff in place, he said. That would create an inconvenience for all involved and result in overtime pay to police officers, Schmidt said.

Councilmen James Montgomery, Doug Harple and Mark McNally disagreed with the administrative-level request.

Montgomery wondered if it wouldn’t be wiser to have Snyder first prove her worth as a court clerk before satisfying her request for a higher wage. Harple asked why the city hadn’t broadened its search for a candidate earlier and McNally asked what assurance the city had that Snyder would stick around after gaining valuable experience.

Johnson said there was no assurance Snyder would remain with the city.

“The same thing happens with our police force all the time,” she said. “We go through the time, trouble and expense to teach them…but they can head to greener pastures if they so desire, when the larger cities recruit them for considerably more money.”

Schmidt reported the city had pursued applicants by advertising the position in the Pierce County Association of Court Clerks publication.

Tedrick had apparently posted Buckley’s job openings for the court clerk and court administrator on the Pierce County Courthouse’s reader board.

After 45 minutes of debate, the council split 3-3 on the issue, with Melissa Patson, Randy Reed and Jan Twardowski voting in favor of upping the hourly rate. Johnson was reminded she has the authority to break a deadlock in such matters and voted to amend the city salary scale.

In other action, the council:

• authorized a repair and maintenance contract to Asphalt Patch Systems of Puyallup for an amount not to exceed $14,683. The city has fallen behind in making road repairs and was compelled to hire outside help.

• accepted a one-time, master event permit fee payment of $804 from the Buckley Chamber of Commerce, in order to cover maintenance and law enforcement costs for the half dozen events it is sponsoring through the current calender year.

• voted to continue the $1,800 lease of the residential property at 152 S. Cedar St., which houses four of the city’s volunteer firefighters across the street from the fire station.