Local governments look to revise procedures in face of growing coronavirus concerns

Redwood City mayor seeks to table proposed raises for city manager, attorney

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Redwood City Mayor Diane Howard has decided to pull two proposed pay raises from the agenda when the City Council meets tonight — by teleconference as a result of new coronavirus restrictions pursuant to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order.

The public cannot attend, but even all seven council members won’t freely assemble. Most apparently will be participating “safely” apart by Zoom, although Howard will be present with an IT staff member “to make sure I run this properly. I’ve never run a Zoom meeting.”

Despite the mayor’s earlier promise that only essential, time-sensitive business would be taken up while the “virtual” meetings are being held, the council was to have considered whether to grant delayed pay raises to the city manager and the city attorney.

The agenda item drew ire from some community members on social media.

“People are hurting and struggling and facing very uncertain financial futures,” Redwood City resident and activist Johanna Rasmussen stated in the Facebook group, Redwood City Says What. She added, “Let’s hope this [city council agenda] item was an oversight and it will be pulled.”

After being questioned by Climate this morning, Mayor Howard conferred with both the city manager, city attorney and Vice Mayor Shelly Masur. All agreed the subject should be put off into the future when the public can be present to state their views.

“I gave it a lot of thought and I thought, here our staff has been working 24/7 and they are pushed to the edge and are tired and they keep going,” Howard said. “And if this created negative feeling in the community, it would not help morale with our city staff for anybody.”

When the City Hall team was putting the agenda together, Howard said they were more focused on allowing time to address how to respond to the threat of eviction for people who can’t pay the rent.

“We had a lot of things on our plate and this (the salary increases) had been deferred so long,” Howard added.

The council was to vote on resolutions that would give City Manager Melissa Stevenson Diaz a 7 percent raise, retroactive to last October; and City Attorney Veronica Ramirez a 6 percent boost, retroactive to last September. Their respective salaries would go from $295,006 to $316,104 and from $251,606 to $266,928.

The proposed increases followed January performance reviews by the City Council. Both women will get 3 percent cost of living increases, which Howard said they were entitled to contractually, and 3 percent merit increases. Stevenson Diaz would get an additional 1 percent to maintain “internal equity.”

The mayor said the increases would have been up for a vote earlier but had been delayed both because the city didn’t for a time have a human resources director and the council has had very heavy agendas. Both Stevenson Diaz and Ramirez have been patient about waiting, but Howard notes that the next performance reviews and increases will be coming up again in the fall.

“My concern is that here we are already at the end of March,” Howard said earlier today, “and their contracts come up again in September and October and we haven’t even addressed last year’s salary increases.” When she talked to Stevenson Diaz and Ramirez about postponing the matter to later, they “were very gracious about it.”

Their last raises were in the fall of 2018. Howard said the council sets compensation, in part, to align with comparable cities and both Stevenson Diaz and Ramirez were below the median.

“So this is something that was overdue,” Howard said. “We really value the two of them very much. Competition for good qualified people is very stiff.” Howard couldn’t say when the item will be back on the agenda, as so much is dependent on the coronavirus emergency.

“I’m just glad we can do business at all,” she said. “I guess you would say it’s another argument why this probably isn’t the right time to do raises or have those discussions because the public really isn’t able to participate in the fashion they’re used to.”

Councilmember Janet Borgens said she will be participating in the meeting from home via the Internet. “I stay at home as much as possible,” she said. “I’m taking this very seriously. I think we have to lead by example.”

Councilmember Giselle Hale, who will be at home too, said there have been some technical issues and the meeting may air with audio only plus a photo of the council member to identify them. “Everyone’s figuring out how to do this,” she said. “… We can do this. We have the technology.”