A group of “concerned citizens” are leading an effort to recall all seven members of Morgantown City Council. The effort — spearheaded by a man who twice ran for office, including city council, and twice lost — is based mostly on tensions between the city and firefighters and police officers.
City of Morgantown Communications Director Andrew Stacy was kind enough to speak with a member of the editorial board to clarify a few things.
It is the city manager’s job to set and implement pay structures for city employees. That said, the city’s total payroll is included in the city’s overall budget, which council must approve before the start of each fiscal year, which begins July 1.
Stacy told us the new limits on overtime and shift differential, which some perceive as pay cuts, are a course correction of inefficiencies that built up over the years. Prior to the recent update, the city employee handbook — which details policies such as shift differential, overtime pay and holiday pay — hadn’t been revised since 1993. Ahead of the update, city administration realized that policies had been implemented and enforced differently across departments.
We can see this issue from both sides. On the one hand, city council is duty-bound to spend our tax dollars efficiently — to do the greatest good with the funds available. If pay structures were not being evenly applied, then the city — and, by extension, the council — is doing its job by reeling in what appears to be unnecessary spending.
On the other hand, we can sympathize with employees who had become used to receiving a certain amount of money each month. Suddenly seeing a fairly sizeable chunk of your paycheck disappear because of restructuring would understandably make anyone mad.
All that said, this is an issue between the city administration and its employees. Budgets change from year to year. Since pay for first responders seems to be the primary sticking point, we recommend the City of Morgantown begin considering now how it might accommodate higher pay or restoring some of the benefits for firefighters and officers in next year’s budget. Especially since members of the community are expressing concerns for public safety.
This is not, however, an issue that warrants recalling all city councilors. The entire nation is facing a police officer shortage, so Morgantown is not alone in this. The same is true regarding, as one recall supporter put it, homelessness and infrastructure problems.
Homelessness plagues most of America, but it’s most noticeable in urban areas. Morgantown happens to be one of the few places in West Virginia where homeless individuals can receive most, if not all, of the services they may need in one place.
As for infrastructure, roads are terrible everywhere in the Mountain State, but Morgantown has made a big push recently to get roads repaved and to address aging water systems. Unfortunately, improvements don’t happen overnight, and the pandemic has caused a variety of delays.
None of these things warrant a recall, especially considering the current council has only been seated for a year. While Morgantown residents can, and should, make councilors aware of the community’s concerns, the community must give city council the time and latitude to do its job.