Study Steers Marion Toward Equitable Employee Policy

            Marion is moving toward a more comprehensive and fair classification and comprehension plan for union and non-union employees.

            During the August 27 meeting of the Marion Board of Selectmen, David Colton from the Edward J. Collins, Jr. Center for Public Management at the University of Massachusetts Boston presented the findings of a comprehensive study and gave his recommendations on how the town should proceed.

            As of today, the town has no set pay scale for both union and non-union employees and instead relies mostly on individual contracts. Colton’s presentation laid down the framework for classifying positions, establishing pay grades, and implementing annual pay raise steps that are merit-based and apart from cost of living adjustments (COLA).

            The town solicited the assistance of the Collins center back in December 2018 and received the center’s draft in late June.

            “I think it makes sense to take it to the next level … so everyone’s treated fairly,” said Town Administrator Jay McGrail. “The same, really, benefits of employment.”

            What the Collins Center did, McGrail said, was essentially take the town’s current 35-page employment policy and cut it down into “something that made sense”.

            The findings were based on employee questionnaires and interviews and a survey of the fiscal year 2019 salaries of six comparable communities – Acushnet, Carver, Fairhaven, Lakeville, Somerset, and Swansea. Next, the center established a draft classification plan using job descriptions and applied a point system evaluating 13 key factors such as level of supervision, complexity of job, quality of judgment, and level of education and experience. This, Colton said, 

creates an internal hierarchy that is equitable, and a system of salary schedules and minimum and maximum salary ranges with steps in between.

            “We want to make sure that the eventual salary … schedule … that we come up with is equitable,” said Colton. “That you’re able to compete in the market for employees and you’re not overpaying, you’re not underpaying, and you have a fair shot at hiring people in this job market.”

            Colton pointed to some of the highlights from the results of the center’s study, which found that Marion’s non-union employee salaries are below the average and median maximum pay rates in comparable communities.

            However, Colton stated, “This doesn’t mean that you pay them less…. We’re interested in the job, not the individual in the job, so we look at the range of the towns’ pay and what you pay, because you don’t have a [pay] range.”

            Union clerical and Department of Public Works employees, Colton said, in Marion are, generally, above average in other communities, mostly due to the effectiveness of union negotiations on behalf of employees.

            Police union employee pay rates, Colton said, are generally comparable to the other towns.

            The compensation breakdown required the center to reduce all fixed salaries to an hourly rate, like non-union employees, “in order to compare apples to apples,” said Colton. The center found that Marion’s maximum pay for some town employees fell below the median range in the other towns. Marion’s building commissioner, associate assessor, COA executive director, and outreach, program, and transportation coordinators, facilities laborers, custodians, and van drivers in Marion all fall below the other towns’ maximum pay rates.

            For example, the assistant assessor, if paid the maximum amount allotted for the position, would be paid an average of $1.31 per hour less than ones in the other six comparable towns.

            “That doesn’t mean they’re being paid more than them now,” said Colton. “The goal is to get everyone inside the same range,” Colton said.

            Still, McGrail said, most Marion employees “fall within the range” of the other towns.

            Over at the DPW, Colton said, Marion pays its employees higher than the median pay rates of the other towns, except for its laborers which is slightly below the average, “but not bad,” said Colton.

            DPW clerical positions, union positions, are apparently paid significantly above the maximum and median hourly pay, but Colton said he does not recommend a new salary schedule for clerical. Where he does recommend changes is in public safety with firefighters, paramedics, and EMTs.

            Colton noted that Marion is one of the few towns that still rely mostly on call firefighters rather than full-timers, which means there wasn’t a reliable comparison town in that regard.

            Five main recommendations topped Colton’s presentation: 1. Establish a non-union, seven-grade classification plan to replace individual contracts; 2. Seek, through collective bargaining, a separate four-grade classification plan for DPW workers; 3.Create three pay grades for call firefighters, EMTs, and paramedics with one for each classification; 4. Seek no changes to the clerical pay plan; and 5. Continue to employ police and fire chiefs with individual employment contracts.

            Colton offered three additional “general” recommendations to the town, including establishing a Human resources Bylaw that will legally establish the classification and compensation system. He further recommended implementing minimum and maximum compensation rates through a 15-step schedule that allows for a 2-percent pay raise each year. The third recommendation is that incumbent employees should be placed in the step closest to their current pay rate that provides a pay increase, not a decrease.

            “We never recommend cutting anybody’s pay,” Colton said.

            Employees would move through the new step system annually based on merit. Individual contracts would end, and the town would revise the plan every three to five years.

            “The easiest things for us to do is work toward looking at the non-union job descriptions and getting you on board with those,” McGrail told the selectmen, as the union employee positions might be more complicated and take longer.

            According to McGrail, six non-union employee contracts expired on June 30, so the town will attempt to place these six positions under the new policy.

            Selectman Norm Hills mentioned that the town’s existing Personnel Policy might give some teeth to the new system without the need for an actual comprehensive bylaw and allow for a “selectmen’s policy” of sorts.

            “There’s some significant change here, there’s no question about it,” McGrail said. “I think it’s a good plan. This is a huge undertaking for us.”

            “I think what you’re doing is a good idea,” said Finance Committee Chairman Peter Winters. “I know we’ve been … advocating for this move for some time…”

            The new system would give structure without having to hire a human resources director, said Selectman John Waterman.

            “We can do all this with our own authority” Waterman said.

            Also during the meeting, without any prior public discussion, the selectmen were unanimous in their approval to adjust the term lengths of current Zoning Board of Appeals members in order to stagger them to one reappointment per year, and appointed Christina Frangos as a new ZBA member with a five-year term to expire in 2024, and current ZBA Chairman Marc LeBlanc for just a one-year term to expire in 2020.

            “We want to get back to what the bylaw requires, which is one comes up each year,” said Selectman Norm Hills.

            The board voted to extend the term of newly appointed ZBA member Margie Baldwin, changing her term expiration from 2020 to 2021, and also the term of ZBA member David Bramley, extending it to 2023 instead of expiring in 2022.

            After the vote, former ZBA member of over two years, Kate Mahoney, spoke in defense of LeBlanc after reading a news article on the comments Marion resident Peter Douglas made attacking LeBlanc’s integrity after Leblanc’s August 20 interview.

            “I have felt, since watching [Douglas’] actions on the zoning board … that he has a personal vendetta against Mr. LeBlanc.” She continued, “While I may not have voted in the same way that [LeBlanc] did … I never in any way saw him be unprofessional … or sway anyone’s vote…. I never in any way saw the character that Mr. Douglas referred to in his comments.”

            Finally, she said, “There is integrity on the zoning board and I think that many of Mr. Douglas’ comments were unfounded.”

            In other matters, the board held interviews with three candidates for an appointment to the Upper Cape Cod School Committee – Cynthia Callow, Christine Marcolini, and John Menzel – and ultimately appointed Christine Marcolini.

            Susan Connor and Adam Murphy were appointed as Inspectors of Animals, a state designation.

            The next meeting of the Marion Board of Selectmen is scheduled for September 3 at 7:00 pm at the Marion Town House.

Marion Board of Selectmen

By Jean Perry

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