By Jennifer Jacob Brown
The City of Meridian employs hundreds of people who perform an incredible number of duties - everything from cutting grass to running the police department. And the salaries of those employees cover as broad a range as their duties, with the lowest paid employees making less than $16,000 a year and the three most well-compensated department heads each making more than $85,000.
When the Cheri Barry administration moved into the mayor's office in July, several changes were made in staff, and with those changes came some tweaks to salaries as well.
The new administration has created two new positions for which they had to find money in the budget. They've also gotten rid of a few positions that had gone dormant or were redundant, and put a $75,000 cap on starting salaries for all new department heads.
The Meridian Star took a look at the gross annual salaries of city employees, finding out which employees have the highest pay, what they're doing for those salaries, and where the salaries for new positions are coming from. The salaries were provided after The Star filed a Freedom of Information request with the city.
Top 5 Earners
At $89,252.80 a year, Ed Skipper had the highest gross salary of any city employee. Skipper has been working for the city for more than 30 years and holds two titles — director of finance and records and city clerk. As city clerk, Skipper oversees municipal elections. As finance and records director, he oversees the finances, public records, and business functions of the city.
Skipper's many responsibilities include working with the administration to create a city budget each year, ensuring that voter registration records are correct, ensuring that the city makes its debt payments, and making recommendations on financial matters to the administration and city council.
The second highest salary is that of Community Development Director Don Farrar, who, like Skipper, has been with the city for a long time and has a large number of responsibilities. As director of the community development department, Farrar oversees the economic, cultural, and physical development of the city. Among other things, Farrar is in charge of buildings and inspection, cultural affairs, and planning - which includes everything from land use and zoning to historic preservation and neighborhood improvement.
Monty Jackson, with the third highest salary, is the city's public works director. He has been working for the city for well over a decade, and, like Skipper and Farrar, has a large load of responsibilities. As director of public works Jackson oversees the city's water supply and wastewater treatment, streets and traffic signals, and garbage disposal, among other things. The public works department is also in charge of Bonita Lakes because it is considered part of the city's water supply. Large contracted public works projects, such as the current 22nd Ave. bridge renovation, also fall under Jackson's supervision.
The fourth highest salary is that of Meridian's Chief Administrative Officer, Mark McDonald. McDonald was appointed when Mayor Cheri Barry took office earlier this year. As CAO, McDonald oversees the day-to-day operations of every city department. He is in effect the city's manager.
One of McDonald's chief responsibilities is to make sure all the city departments are functioning in harmony, looking out for problems like duplication of services. He directs the operations of all city departments and assigns work to those departments.
Other responsibilities include working with the finance director to create a city budget, serving as the mayor's Chief of Staff, representing the city on base closure issues, serving as a liaison to other branches of government, and taking calls from concerned citizens.
Barry has the fifth highest salary in the city. The mayor's salary of $80,000 is set by the city council. As mayor, Barry is the city's Chief Executive Officer. Where the CAO oversees day-to-day operations of the city, working to alleviate current problems, the mayor looks at the bigger picture, making plans for the city's long-term betterment and growth. Once the mayor comes up with a plan for the city, she works to get city council approval for whatever parts of the plan might require it. The mayor also has the power to veto city council decisions.
Barry said she feels the city's department heads earn every penny they get. "These department heads are responsible for a lot and we are so lucky to have their experience, their expertise, and their knowledge," she said.
"People will look at these salaries and say, 'Oh, it's so much,' but they don't see the long hours and nights these guys are working," said McDonald, adding that the department heads would be paid more to perform the same services if they worked in the private sector.
The 10th and 15th highest salaries are both for positions created by the new administration.
Jeff Homan, with the 10th highest salary at $74,900.80 a year, is the director of governmental and legislative affairs. In that position, he serves as a liaison between the city administration and the state legislature as well as a grant writer.
Homan represents the city to the legislative community and to other cities' administrations, and uses his knowledge of legislative activity to advise the administration on public policy. Along with writing grants, he searches for grant opportunities and ensures that grants are used properly once they are attained.
Barry said the city plans to make use of more grant-writers, but that those writers will not be employed by the city. The administrative costs of writing the grants, she said, will be paid for from the grants themselves. Once this process begins, it will be overseen by Homan.
Kirk Thompson, with the 15th highest salary at $65,000, serves as executive advisor to the mayor. As such, Thompson advises the mayor on a variety of issues, assists in departmental functions, and plays a major role in helping the administration formulate policy and encourage economic and cultural development. Thompson helps the mayor keep up with what is going on both within city government and in other parts of the community, such as community organizations and schools.
Barry said Thompson works 12 to 14 hours a day, including Saturdays and Sundays, and that "his desire to see Meridian grow is amazing."
Thompson is currently considered a temporary employee because his position has not yet been approved by the civil service commission.
Moving Money Around
Barry said the city's budget is tight — so tight that no city employees, including department heads, got their regular 3 percent raise this fiscal year. And things aren't looking up yet — Barry said sales tax revenues for October and November are down 7.45 percent, or $174,810.34, from last year.
It is because of the the tight budget, Barry said, that the administration put a $75,000 cap on starting salaries for department heads. The salary for the CAO was also reduced by $5,000 as compared to the previous CAO's salary.
Because of the tight budget, the administration had to do some searching in order to fund the two new positions in the mayor's office. Part of the money for those salaries came from the reduction in starting salaries for department heads, McDonald said. The rest came from the removal of previous positions that had gone dormant and the removal of another position that was not dormant, but was deemed a duplication of services.
"We have not increased the city's budget as a result of these new positions," McDonald said.
Barry said that, if the budget allows, she hopes to be able to give raises to all city employees next year.
"This is the first year that they have not received a 3 percent raise," she said. "It was very hard not to give them that, but we just didn't have it in the budget."
With the tight budget, Barry said she will make improvement of basic services — streets and public safety — her primary focus.
In the meantime, she said Meridianites can help bring sales tax revenue back up by doing their shopping here in town, and encouraging others to shop here as well.
"This is how we serve the people of Meridian, with these tax dollars," she said. "Shop in Meridian. Take advantage our specialty shops and boutiques, and you can help get our sales tax revenue back where we need it."
Top 15 salaries in the city:
1. Ed Skipper: Director of Finance and Records/City Clerk - $89,252.80
2. Don Farrar: Director of Community Development - $88,545.60
3. Monty Jackson: Director of Public Works - $86,611.20
4. Mark McDonald: Chief Administrative Officer - $85,000
5. Cheri Barry: Mayor/Chief Executive Officer - $80,000
6. Gary Matlock: Human Resources Director - $79,788.80
7. Anthony Clayton: Fire Chief - $75,000
8. Tim Miller: Homeland Security Director - $75,000
9. Lee Shelbourn: Chief of Police - $75,000
10. Jeff Homan: Director of Governmental and Legislative Affairs - $74,900.80
11. Leigh Barber: Assistant Director, Finance and Records - $68,972.80
12. Mark Naylor: Parks and Recreation Director - $68,910.40
13. Don Jemison: Planning Manager - $65,457.60
14. Tommy Irby: Assistant Public Works Director, Operations - $65,374.40
15 Kirk ThompsonTemporary, Executive Advisor to the Mayor — $65,000
Source: City of Meridian
Other salaries of interest
Entry Level Police Officer: $25,188.80
Entry Level Firefighter: $23,927.90
Two of the city councilmen must take a pay reduction because they are former teachers drawing on state retirement. The council president also makes $2,000 more than other councilmen.
Jesse E. Palmer, Sr. (state retirement): $4,798.32
Mary A.B. Perry (state retirement): $9,636.24
George Thomas: $20,000
Barbara Henson: $20,000
Bobby Smith (council president): $22,000