The head of one of Atlanta’s employee unions is calling for the city’s embattled Watershed commissioner, Jo Ann Macrina, to step down. It comes days after police arrested six Watershed employees in an ongoing investigation into widespread theft within the department.
“She shouldn’t be in that position anymore,” said Gina Pagnotta-Murphy, president of the Professional Association of City Employees (PACE Atlanta). “Her employees unanimously want her to step down and move on. They have no respect for her. They have no idea why the administration is still allowing her to be the leader.”
Over the last several years, hundreds of thousands of dollars of Watershed equipment has been lost or stolen. Pagnotta-Murphy says rank-and-file employees have raised concerns about theft for years, but in many cases, she says, those complaints have fallen on deaf ears. She claims managers are involved in the stealing and believes there’s organized crime within the department.
For her part, Macrina says she’s committed to protecting city assets, citing new security cameras at Watershed facilities. But she says some losses are to be expected.
“Last year, we had approximately $162,000 that we lost. Compare that to a total of $20 million in inventory. It’s a very small percentage,” Macrina said. “All industries, all businesses do experience loss. That’s not something that I think I need to resign over.”
Macrina, who has led the department since 2011, declined to comment on allegations of widespread corruption and mismanagement. She says she’s working closely with police as the investigation continues.
Meanwhile, Macrina defended her managers. She wants them to be paid more to help reduce turnover. She said she’ll continue to push for higher pay.
“For highly technical and skilled senior people, our salaries are quite low,” Macrina said. “I definitely feel the leadership team is underpaid.”
Last year, amid the police investigation, Macrina raised the salaries of some of her top managers. After the pay raises came to light through media reports, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed rescinded them in short order. In a heated City Council meeting, Reed’s Deputy Chief of Staff Katrina Taylor-Parks explained the mayor’s decision.
“Was it the proper timing? Was it the right judgment at the time? I think that’s in question, and the answer is no,” Taylor-Parks said.
Pagnotta-Murphy blasted Macrina’s latest call for salary raises as tone-deaf. She says it shows the “arrogance and lack of accountability” within the department.
Reed spokeswoman Jenna Garland says the mayor remains confident in Macrina. She also says Reed is open to raising salaries for Watershed managers.
“The city will do what is necessary to be competitive and to hire competent, qualified staff to provide clean and healthy water to the residents and customers of the city of Atlanta,” Garland said.