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Published: Friday, 6/17/2011

Salary hikes OK'd by auditor raise questions

Commissioners maintain contract lacks provision

BY TYREL LINKHORN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Lucas County officials are questioning several salary increases Auditor Anita Lopez gave to more than a dozen Lucas County Information Services employees since 2008, arguing the contract commissioners approved that year did not provide for them.

The three-year contract between the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Lucas County Auditor approved in 2008 gave employees a 2 percent raise that year and included wage reopeners each of the next two years. But after providing that 2 percent raise, Ms. Lopez gave 12 employees two additional salary increases in 2008.

The issue came to light as commissioners reviewed the 2011 contract proposal between the auditor's office and IBEW and found the union filed a grievance over members not receiving step increases as their contract promised.

"That triggered 'where'd this come from?' Well, here's this step thing," Commissioner Pete Gerken said. "I've never seen that and it's not what we voted on."

Ms. Lopez said the salary increases were "upgrades" not "step raises," and that they were precisely what commissioners -- including Mr. Gerken and Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak -- voted on.

"If it's taken them four years to finally learn to read a contract, and they've been running the county this long, maybe it's time for new leadership," Ms. Lopez said.

Included in the 2008 contract was a memorandum of understanding that said job audits would be done, and subject to budgetary constraints, the auditor would provide upgrades to employees whose duties and responsibilities warrant an upgrade.

Ms. Lopez said her labor representative met with IBEW officials, and the two sides agreed the employees were undercompensated compared to industry standards. In all, 14 employees were given about $33,000 in additional pay between 2008 and 2011.

"I think her position is she'll give those if she has the financial wherewithal to do it, and she should if she's got the money in her assigned budget to do it," Mr. Gerken said. "My problem is that wasn't in the contract when submitted to us in '08 and I think it probably should have been. If there's going to be a series of wages, then we need to know that before we vote."

Adding to the spat is the fact that the 2008 contract was not approved by the county's Data Processing Board, of which Ms. Lopez is secretary. County Administrator Peter Ujvagi said he has been advised approval by that board is a requirement of law; Ms. Lopez said she has been advised it is not. The 2011 contract proposal was also sent to commissioners without that board's approval, though Ms. Lopez said the contract went before the board twice and no one asked for a vote.

She has called a data processing board meeting at 11 a.m. Monday.

Mr. Ujvagi said the county wants to restore the proper process and transparency. Even if officials can't find contract language that grants the raises, they aren't likely to ask employees to give back the extra money.

"The reality is you don't want to punish the employees who work very, very hard. That's not under consideration or discussion," Mr. Ujvagi said.

Mr. Gerken said he does not believe Ms. Lopez has done anything illegal but that she has been "less than fully transparent."

For her part, Ms. Lopez alleges commissioners held an illegal closed meeting of the data processing board by inviting several members to an executive session earlier this week. In an interview, she said she planned to raise that issue at Monday's meeting.

Under the resolution of the grievance, the 11 employees covered by IBEW would receive raises between $904 and $2,316 with the approval of the 2011 contract.

Ms. Lopez notes she continues operating her office at reduced budgets each year and that she has cut through attrition the total auditor's office employment from 173 in 2006, the year before she took office, to 119 right now.

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: tlinkhorn@theblade.com or 419-724-6134.



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