You may remember the controversy last year when Mayor Bob Bratina's gave his chief of staff, Peggy Chapman, a $30,000 raise but said the decision had come from the City's Human Resources department.
Over several days and two separate statements, he gradually backed down from that claim and acknowledged that he had made the decision himself - though he maintained that the misunderstanding was "unintentional".
The Mayor's poor handling of the situation, and in particular his ongoing communications about it, turned what could have been a good-news story into a fiasco that spurred closer scrutiny of the City's pay increase policies and even threatened a formal censure.
Now the issue has reared up again in the light of the Spectator's report last week that Chapman made the so-called sunshine salary list for 2011, meaning she earned more than $100,000.
Chapman's place on the list was leaked to the Spectator in time for columnist Andrew Dreschel to write about them last Friday in a hit-piece that appears to have caught Chapman flat-footed and managed to elicit some awkward quotes:
"Geez, I get like 17 [vacation] days, but I don't know if that includes my e-days (five days of paid leave in lieu of overtime) because I'm a senior manager kind of person ... but I don't know."
Though her salary last year was $90,000, a payout in lieu of vacation helped push her over the public disclosure threshold. According to City rules, cash in lieu of vacation should only be approved for "extenuating circumstances". Bratina refused to comment when the Spectator asked for clarification on why Chapman was approved, saying that the question "overstepp[ed] the bounds of privacy as (it) relates to personnel and H.R. policy."
Are you cringing yet? It gets worse.
According to Dreschel's Monday column, Bratina struck back in an email to Spectator editor-in-chief Paul Berton that accused the paper of "malicious intent with regard to publishing material about my office."
He further charged the paper with "unrelenting and in many cases completely false or misleading news coverage, editorial comments, and ignorant attacks on my character, and that of my chief of staff through immoral and unethical use of editorial cartoons."
The email actually blames the Spectator for forcing Chapman to cancel her vacation and hence earn over $100,000:
I hope some day your wives and family experience the unhappiness you have caused my wife and family, destroying our enjoyment of this past Christmas with the unfounded attacks on my employee's compensation. She had vacation time booked, but was forced to remain close to home while that horror unfolded in your publication.
Perhaps most remarkable, Bratina once again asserts that the decision to give Chapman a $30,000 raise came from HR and not from himself:
This is blatantly not true. I made no such decision, but left the matter of compensation, as I've said over and over, to the outcome of a review by Human Resources.
Bratina also took a swipe at Ward 4 Councillor Sam Merulla: "Of course the required Merulla quote was added in, as usual completely useless in terms of relevance."
You can read the full email [PDF], including a chain of emails between Bratina and Spectator reporter Emma Reilly.
Yesterday, Merulla raised the issue at council and gave a notice of motion that he intends to bring a motion forward next Wednesday to Censure the Mayor.
"We're at our wits' end when it comes to the drama coming out of the Mayor's Office," said Merulla after the issue was discussed at length at Wednesday's general issues committee meeting. "He needs to man up and accept responsibility for this mess."
At issue is the fact that once again, Bratina is trying to deflect responsibility for Chapman's $30,000 raise to HR, despite previously apologizing for making this claim.
Last December, Bratina stated, "HR reviewed Peggy's employment status and found that she was vastly undercompensated based on job description and history. I didn't give a raise, she didn't ask for a raise."
However, he later acknowledged that it was his own office that had initiated the inquiry into Chapman's salary and that it was his decision to grant the raise, once an email from HR director Helen Hale Tomasik clarified that HR had not initiated the increase.
Council arranged an in camera meeting to consider a censure against the Mayor. Meanwhile, Bratina issued an awkward statement that expressed "regret" for "any negative inference that my comments may have created".
At the meeting, Council deferred a decision until they had a chance to speak to Bratina directly about the incident. Bratina followed up with another statement that acknowledged his "comments were not well-worded and taken to mean unintentionally that the H.R. department initiated or directed the higher salary. For this, I take full responsibility."
It was an apology, but he was apologizing for using words that other people might misunderstand, rather than apologizing for blaming HR. Nevertheless, it was enough to satisfy the rest of Council and they voted not to issue a censure.
One aspect of the Mayor's decision to grant his chief of staff a $30,000 increase received very little attention: the fact that Bratina already knew Chapman was underpaid as early as February 2011.
Even if we accept his claim that he "did seek comparative historical information from Human Resources" and "acted on the basis of that information," that doesn't square with his words to the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce on February 14, 2011:
My own chief of staff - who's here, who has done such a wonderful job - when we were looking over the salaries over the past several years of people in that position, she decided on her own that she would take $20,000 less on an annual basis than what had been paid.
It is unclear why Bratina would ask Human Resources for that information again later in the year. Did he forget that they had already researched this information at the start of Bratina's term and, indeed, bragged about it in a prepared talking point for the Chamber?
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