WM mayor, council clash over minimum wage
McClendon pushing $14/hour for entry level city workers By John Rech
City Council heard budget changes from Mayor Marco McClendon February 4, just four business days after the council passed an eleventh hour budget.
City council acted in the nick of time to authorize the city budget prior to its end of January requirement.
Council had previously extended one-twelfth of the 2019 to pay the bills in January, but as the calendar turned to February much remained up in the air. Councilman James Pulliaum contended with Mayor Marco McClendon over making budget modifications within a week of passing the budget and called for a line by line controls for city council.
While city council reviewed the public works budget and considered the costs of new residential curbside garbage cans, a new garbage truck fitted to lift the cans without a walk behind crew, and raising the city starting pay to $14 per hour, Pulliaum wanted to know why city council had not been presented the option to up the city wage minimum until after the budget passed. Councilman Wayne Croom started with basic questions about the $14 standard.
“Was this based on the city wage survey done last year?” asked Croom. “Why was there no mention of $14? Why does it feel like an endaround? Why does it feel like we budgeted so much money for labor now all of a sudden, we are going to give $14 per hour because the money is there.”
The mayor asserted his administrative power and discretion to rearrange department budgets.
“I don’t mean disrespect when I say this,” said McClendon. “I am the administrator. I met with the department heads.”
In those meeting various departments planned to shift money mainly by cutting overtime, or leaving budgeted jobs on their organization chart unfilled.
In all, $143,000 in funds would be moved to support the wage floor, and benefit costs would escalate another $48,000 per year.
McClendon campaigned on the new minimum wage, had announced his intentions in television interviews and told sanitation workers his plan at their department luncheon last month.
But, the Feb. 4 meeting was the first time city council officially heard the proposal.
McClendon likened it to a construction project.
“If you budget nine people to build a bridge but I can figure out how to do it with eight, what problem would you have with that?” asked McClendon. “I am the mayor. I am not making this up. It’s within the budget.”
Budget Chairman Councilman Tracy Catt reminded council about division of powers.
“The Municipal League makes it very clear; your job is to appropriate, the mayors job is to administer,” said Catt. “You shouldn’t question how the mayor spends the money unless its outside legalities.”
“This is one reason I’m in favor of a line item budget to be honest with you,” said Pulliaum. “Our history is hiding money in the flower bed (budget) and move it around any time we get ready to do something. If we had a line item, nothing gets moved unless city council say so. I don’t like this because we have gone into reserves to balance this budget.
That is what we’ve done.”
The mayor fired back.
“Honestly when I look at a line item budget it is like saying someone is stealing,” said Mc-Clendon. “I don’t care if it a preference, that is how we have done it for 30 years.
“What are you crying about,” said Pulliaum.
“We could have done this with mayor Johnson but you let it go for 20 years,” said McClendon.
“I have brought this up for years,” answered Pulliaum.
“But you want to bring it up now,” said Mc-Clendon.
“You act like I’m doing something wrong by bringing it up now; I am not,” said Pulliaum.
Catt called for the line item discussion to move to the next budget meeting. The $14 wage ordinance had its first reading on Feb. 6. If all goes according to schedule, it will be read again on Feb. 19 and will have the third of three required readings in the council’s first meeting in March.
“I am the administrator. I met with the department heads… If you budget nine people to build a bridge but I can figure out how to do it with eight, what problem would you have with that? It’s within the budget.”
— West Memphis Mayor Marco McClendon