Salisbury Eyes Efficiency With Executive Shuffling

SALISBURY — A major restructuring of the executive branch in Salisbury would split responsibility for the city’s 11 departments across three different categories and would come with an estimated price tag of $60,400 in additional costs.

Proponents of the change assert that it would mean a major increase in governmental efficiency and break the “linear” nature of the current system. But city leadership questioned if the new salaries for top positions would keep Salisbury competitive.

“We view it as a growth opportunity. Not a growth of government but a growth of opportunity to serve the citizens in a more cohesive manner,” Salisbury Fire Chief Rick Hoppes told the council Monday.

The new structure was championed by Hoppes as well as Salisbury Police Department Chief Barbara Duncan and Neighborhood Services Director Tom Stevenson who said that input from several other departments was factored into their model.

“We spent a great deal of staff hours looking at what would be a viable solution to some of the organizational changes that would be beneficial to help us with our efficiency in government,” said Hoppes.

What the trio suggested is a “paradigm shift” that would take some of the responsibility currently on the city administrator and divide it among new deputy administrators. Instead of having a single assistant city administrator, the duty would be split between a deputy city administrator for economic development and another for communications. There would still be a traditional city administrator, but their role would be reduced slightly.

“The linear nature of [our current system] really drastically decreases efficiency with regards to visionary planning and organizing a unified effort,” said Hoppes.

The 11 city departments would then be divvied up between the three.

“What we are looking to do for each one of these is to have an organizational leader on top of each segment that coordinates the efforts that drives the mission of the city, which needs to be clarified collectively by the council and by the mayor,” Duncan said.

Because the restructuring would be such a major overhaul on the current system, the council had a number of questions. Salaries were a sticking point for several council members. Even though the new setup would cost an additional $60,400 to implement for the new deputies, the city administrator’s position would see a salary cut. Because the current city administrator, John Pick, is about to retire, Stevenson said that it seemed like the perfect time to put the new strategy into action.

But Councilwoman Laura Mitchell worried that the pay cut might make it harder to attract qualified applicants for the position.

“I don’t see us getting what we need out of these salaries in particular and the compression issues that would come with that,” she said. “The city administrator would be making less than many of the department heads, or a number of the department heads at least. And that’s an issue.”

The city administrator would drop from $97,511 to $86,587 under the restructuring. The two deputies would be making $62,257, a slight drop from the $68,786 made by the assistant city administrator.

Council President Jake Day also worried that cutting the salaries might make it more difficult to stay competitive with other cities.

“That’s something that I’m thinking about and struggling with,” he said.

The salaries were tricky, said Mayor Jim Ireton, but a lot of thought was put into coming up with something the administration thought was fair.

“Trying to come to those numbers was an extremely difficult thing to do,” he said.

The Salisbury Chamber of Commerce also weighed in on the salary question as well as some other points it felt needed clarified before the current system could be retired.

“You want to get the best talent for the buck,” stressed Chamber Executive Director Ernie Colburn.

Other questions the chamber forwarded included whether a part-time mayor, which currently exists, is still the best approach as well as if the current compensation for the office of mayor is aligned with the job description.

Day weighed in on that, too, asking if implementing the new structure would be “the end of the conversation.”

Councilwoman Terry Cohen suggested that the city look to other ways to increase efficiency while talk of restructuring continues.

“In terms of efficiencies, there are a number of things that I think that we could do now that would create some of the offloading of some of that work,” she said.

Redundancy is a problem that needs examination, she continued, with city resources sometimes duplicated and wasted on the same task.

The council decided that additional work sessions will be necessary to fully examine the pros and cons of restructuring the executive branch at this time. There is no rush, said Stevenson, though if the new system is put into motion it would be easiest to do so in-between Pick’s retirement and replacement hiring.

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