Decatur's City Council will consider Monday whether to create a manager position for its Planning Department, but at least one council member has concerns about the job's pay range and filling it before a director of development is hired.
City Human Resources Director Richelle Sandlin said based on market analysis and compensation for planning managers in other cities, the planning manager would be started at a higher pay grade than Decatur's other departmental managers, including Building, Community Development and Revenue.
Sandlin said the goal of hiring a planning manager is to “recruit some experience — someone with an AICP, which is the planner certification, and have some supervisory experience for some leadership in the department.”
The pay range for other department managers is $52,684 to $80,164, while the planning manager’s pay would range from $64,190 to $97,673.
In the past, Councilman Billy Jackson has advocated for the hiring of a certified planner, but Jackson said he does not support creating the planning manager job classification at the proposed pay grade.
Jackson said hiring a planning manager who out-earns other department managers will cost the city, both in morale and in dollars spent on job studies down the line. He said he's heard from city employees who want a new planning manager to start at a lower pay that resembles what other department managers earn.
“We’re crippling morale in our city by making moves like this, and that’s why I think it’s very unwise for us to do that,” Jackson said. “If we increase that position, then in the future we’re going to have to do job studies where the other positions are not at the level that they should be at. Job studies cost tens of thousands of dollars.”
Sandlin said each department manager has unique requirements, and those differences can be reflected in pay.
“We found that the pay ranges were higher in large part based on the scope of responsibility for the manager of the planning role,” Sandlin said.
Jackson disagreed, saying the planning manager’s responsibilities would not differ enough from those of other managers to necessitate a pay increase.
“I don’t understand why we would have a recommendation as such, when the managers are basically having the same responsibilities in their respective departments,” Jackson said.
Councilman Hunter Pepper said he’s on the fence about hiring a planning manager, and wants to hear specific reasons — like higher educational requirements for a planning manager versus those for other department manager roles — to justify starting the planning manager at a higher salary range.
“I believe that we need to treat everybody equally and fair,” Pepper said.
Councilman Kyle Pike said he supports the hiring of a planning manager.
“Our Planning Department has been understaffed, and a planning manager could fill a large gap there. Our employees in the Planning Department have done a tremendous job while working understaffed,” Pike said. “I believe it will be a benefit to the department and the city.”
Pike said he understands the reasoning behind paying a planning manager more than other department managers.
“In order to be more competitive in the hiring process and seek a more qualified candidate, the higher pay scale was recommended to be in line with others. The Planning Department plays a major role in our city operations as well as planning and preparing for future growth,” Pike said.
Councilman Carlton McMasters said he supports the recommended pay scale for a planning manager.
"With the growth we're hoping to see the next several years, it's time that position gets filled. Are we going to have to pay for this position? Absolutely," McMasters said. "A Planner III (or) manager is a technical position that commands a higher salary. The difficulty in filling the position previously, in my opinion, was directly related to the non-competitive pay scale."
The council will also consider Monday whether to initiate another recruitment process for a director of development. The position has been vacant for more than seven months after Wally Terry retired April 30.
Mayor Tab Bowling and Pike want to fill the position and possibly hire a deputy director, while Jackson, Pepper and McMasters have said the city would be better served by hiring individual directors for each of the departments Terry supervised: Engineering, Planning, Community Development, and Building. Terry also coordinated economic development as director of development.
Jackson said the council needs to make a decision regarding the director of development first before voting on hiring a planning manager. That way, whoever is hired to oversee the planning department can participate in the hiring process for the planning manager position.
Also on the agenda for Monday’s meeting is increasing the pay grade for a separate Planner III position.
“We have to hire a director before we’re trying to fill those positions,” Jackson said. “I think that needs to be addressed first and foremost, so I don’t think that this should actually be on the table.”