The Atlanta City Council Monday reprimanded the city’s embattled Watershed chief and members of Mayor Kasim Reed’s team over hefty raises awarded to five Watershed managers.
Watershed Commissioner Jo Ann Macrina said legislation approved in 2012 gave her broad authority to adjust salaries to help attract and retain workers.
“Part of the reason we are losing good people is we can’t pay them the salaries they are getting elsewhere,” said Macrina.
Councilwoman Felicia Moore said she was unaware Macrina had such authority. She suggested vague language in the 2012 legislation had been “used and abused” and demanded Macrina produce hard evidence justifying the five-figure raises.
Macrina: “We have a long table that we used for our analysis as well as information from other utilities and…”
Moore: “I want to see all of it. How about that? I don’t want to see a recreation in one sheet. I want to see all of it.”
Mayor Reed has already reversed the pay raises, which came to light last week.
City code requires the full Council approve raises above 10 percent. All of the Watershed raises, which ranged from $15,000 to $25,000, passed that threshold but Council wasn’t involved.
Reed staffer Katrina Taylor-Parks denied any code violation. She cited the 2012 legislation.
“It was a legal action,” said Taylor-Parks. “Was it the proper timing? Was it the right judgment at the time? I think that’s in question and the answer is no.”
Friday, Reed’s office said the raises were legal because they were salary adjustments and not based on performance. At no point was the 2012 legislation mentioned.
Councilwoman Natalyn Archibong, chair of the city utilities committee, criticized the administration’s response.
“It’s disappointing to have a story continue to change. To hear one thing Friday and hear another thing today,” said Archibong.
Meanwhile, Human Resources Commissioner and Reed appointee Yvonne Cowser Yancy, who signed off on the pay raises in January, batted back claims Watershed is getting special treatment on salary issues over police and other departments.
“It’s not because there aren’t issues in other departments. It’s because the conversation started in that particular place and we were able to move legislation forward at that particular time,” said Yancy.
The episode comes as Watershed is being investigated for mismanagement and security lapses resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost and stolen equipment.
Reed, speaking earlier in the day, dismissed calls for Macrina’s removal, saying “you have to look at the totality of someone’s performance.”
“While there have been a number of challenges in the Watershed Department, she is also the leader that helped secure the longest extension of a water and sewer consent decree in the United States of America so everybody can’t look at just what is going on right now,” said Reed.
He plans to hold off on further action until an ongoing review of the department is completed. No word yet on when that will be.