Communications between the Athens Mayor’s office and the Athens City Auditor’s office have been strenuous after Mayor Paul Wiehl accused Auditor Kathy Hecht of “overstepping her boundaries” at last week’s council meeting.
“I’ve been operating in a vacuum,” Wiehl said.
He added the heart of the problem, which has stopped meetings and records requests while cutting off conversation between the offices, is the unauthorized pay raise of some auditor’s office employees.
According to the Ohio Revised Code, “the legislative authority of a city, by ordinance or resolution, shall determine the number of … employees … and their respective salaries.”
Athens City Code delegates the power to determine city employees’ salaries to city council.
Wiehl said that although council set a 2 percent pay raise for non-union employees at the end of the year, Hecht authorized additional pay increases for four auditor’s office employees.
“In December, council passed an ordinance saying all non-union get a 2 percent raise,” Wiehl said. “After that, I received letter said that some employees were getting 3 percent or 4 percent.”
Hecht said that pay increase is because of a vacant position in the office that has long been unfilled.
“We have been down a person for about two years,” Hecht said. “Last year, we talked about if we could continue on with other people absorbing other duties.”
Because various employees at her office picked up the extra work, Hecht maintained it was “only fair to give them raises.”
Wiehl said that Hecht still overreached her power as a department head, adding it was a matter of “authority and process.”
Athens City Law Director Pat Lang, on the other hand, thinks Hecht was acting within her authority.
In 2012, council implemented a system of “pay bands” for non-union employees, which set specific ranges of pay for certain city positions.
Hecht maintained the system was implemented so supervisors “could have some leeway in rewarding employees who do well.”
Lang said in a Jan. 8 email to Wiehl that council “abdicated some degree of its authority” when it created the system.
“So long as the raises given to Auditor’s Office employees remain within the pay bands, and so long as the money was duly budgeted by city council to be spent on salaries, the raises do not appear to violate the law,” Lang said in the email.
Hecht said the bands “weren’t that specific” and the pay raises within her office were following the bands.
Wiehl said he’s unsure whether there is enough money in the city’s budget to authorize the salary increases.
“I’ve been told that for non-union raises we can’t afford more than 2 percent … It was my impression we were being very frugal,” Wiehl said, adding the pay raises were implemented to account for inflation.
Hecht said her additional raises were based on merit.
“I know I was within my powers to do this,” she said.
Hecht added that she had the support of various council members, though she didn’t name these officials.
“They’re not going to do anything because I was absolutely within my authority,” Hecht said.
She also mentioned she was not concerned about backlash from Wiehl.
“I’m an elected official,” she said. “And he’s not my boss.”