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Your view: The city responds

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

The Sikeston City Council would like to respond to former Councilman Josh Bill's letter dated January 14, 2004.

Annually (even during former Councilman Josh Bill's nine years on the council), the City Council approves a compensation ordinance that establishes salaries for all employee classifications. It is wrong for former Councilman Josh Bill to imply that the City Council set idly by while the city manager openly violated the law. The salary increases that were earned by the administrative staff in 2001 were in compliance with our existing ordinance. No city employee received a pay raise this year except through promotion in position and responsibility. In addition, the salaries of two of the individuals were raised in order to keep them within the employment of the city.

The level of pay for department heads within the City of Sikeston is consistent with the level of pay for corresponding areas of responsibility within the City of Cape Girardeau, City of Carbondale, City of Paducah, and City of Poplar Bluff. In many instances, the aforementioned cities have two positions budgeted to accomplish what the City of Sikeston only pays one salary to perform the function. In addition, our salary schedule for administrative staff is very much in line with what is paid for similar duties by the Sikeston Board of Municipal Utilities and Sikeston R-6 School District. Furthermore, former Councilman Josh Bill implies that all department heads have received windfall pay raises. We would like to point out that the salary for the Director of Economic Development has been reduced by $ 20,000, in this year's budget.

Former Councilman Josh Bill, once again, does not clearly understand the concept of a budget and its administration. This City Council has consistently directed and monitored the finances of this city in an effort to provide a scale of pay consistent with the job classification. In addition, we have strived to maintain an affordable health care plan and retirement benefits for all employees. We recognize our employees as our most valuable resource. Former Councilman Josh Bill knows that efforts of previous councils put in place policies to create additional staffing and benefits to keep our service levels at a point demanded by the citizens. The announcement by former Councilman Josh Bill that we were a "city in crisis" led to spending initiatives that had to be funded out of our reserves. This is what we seek to remedy by passage of the net 1/2 cent sales tax. In addition, this City Council wants to reduce local city property taxes by 21 percent.

The decision to temporarily close fire station two was based upon sound management principles regarding manpower availability and came at the request of the Director of Public Safety. At the time the action was taken, DPS had two officers attending the police academy and two officers on light duty for injuries. In order to staff our afternoon power shift during the summer months, the decision was made to reallocate personnel to cover the street. Furthermore, station two is the oldest facility. We strive to replace officers as quickly as possible. However, the process isn't as easy as former Councilman Josh Bill would have you believe. Once an officer is hired, it takes approximately 18 months to be fully trained. This is the reason that we have put an added effort into recruiting officers already trained in police or fire functions. One only has to look at the news stories of the last week to understand the manpower shortages currently being faced by police and fire departments in the region.

The City Council annually passes an ordinance that provides for vacation benefits based upon the number of years of service. The basic formula for this benefit has not changed in the last 14 years. For example, year 1 (5 days vacation), years 2-4 (10 days vacation), years 5-8 (12 days vacation) etc…. there is no city employee that receives 7 1/2 weeks of vacation. Carroll Couch has been with the city seventeen years and receives 18 days a year. By ordinance, he can only "bank" 28 days. Currently, Carroll's banked time off equals 24 days, some two full weeks shy of former Councilman Josh Bill's claim. Carroll Couch is more than just a city clerk; he is the city's finance director and holds the professional accreditation of CPA.

Former Councilman Josh Bill knows that the City of Sikeston is a charter city, not one of the third class. Former Councilman Josh Bill knows we have a full-time city manager. Former Councilman Josh Bill knows that our city manager has been a part-time instructor for Southeast Missouri State University since 1988. He taught a class at SAHEC when Josh Bill served his one term as mayor. Our city attorney's opinion was that the city manager had not violated the statute as a third class city nor as a charter city. In addition, the Missouri Municipal League (this organization provides expert advice on matters of municipal policies and functions to 400 plus municipalities in the state of Missouri) was contacted and they have stated that they do not believe it violates state law. The class that he teaches meets at night and we believe it is good for city employees to participate in this type of activity. In the past, our city manager has also coached youth baseball and basketball. By law, our city manager is required to file a personal financial disclosure statement with the state ethics commission, each year he reports his part time position with SEMO.

Former Councilman Josh Bill knows that the line item for community representation is not a personal expense account. In the year he references, nearly 70 percent ($4,800) of the budgeted line item was used for participation of the Mayor, Mayor Pro-Temp, and City Manager in economic development activities and conferences attended by the manager. In the fall of 2002, it was recommended by the Director of Economic Development, to the members of the DED executive committee, that a city contingent accompany him to a conference in San Diego to learn more about the economic development process and seek leads for new industry. In addition, in an effort to attract and make contacts with Midwestern prospects for industrial recruitment the City of Sikeston hosted several businessmen involved in business relocation and site selection at a reception at Busch Stadium. The city also invited a number of local businessmen to participate and they did so at their own time and expense. The members who attended these events have reported to the full council.

Finally, this line item also supports various commitments for the city staff to attend community events, such as Chamber Citizen of Year banquet, monthly chamber meetings, Daughters of Sunset banquet, CP Center dinner/auction, Public Works week luncheon, and meetings that might be hosted by/for the City Council or board and commissions. It should also be pointed out that we are 7 months into this budget year and less than $900 has been used out of the $7,000 that was budgeted.

It is time to end this divisiveness and move our community forward. The City Charter has provided us the most diversified council representation in the history of Sikeston. The Mayor and City Council pledge to uphold the public's trust and we only seek to make Sikeston the best place possible to work, raise a family, and build a future.

Mayor Mike Marshall

Mayor Pro-Temp Michael Harris (Ward 4)

Councilman Phil Boyer (at-large)

Councilman Sue Rogers (at-large)

Councilman Jerry Pullen (Ward 1)

Councilman Jim Terrell (Ward 2)

Councilman David Teachout (Ward 3)