By Bonnie Culverhouse
As the Minden City Council continues to struggle to pass a budget – using words such as “compromise” and “transparency” as reasons – two persons sit on the sidelines, yet in the line of fire.
Economic Development Director Phillip Smart and Human Resources Director April Aguilar were promised raises – which they have received – when they were hired by Mayor Terry Gardner. Those raises are reflected in the proposed budget.
“The economic developer in the past was making $72,000 a year,” Gardner said. “The economic developer I hired is making $42,000 a year.”
According to the hiring agreement, once the employee, Smart, brought in a business with 10 full-time employees, he would get a $6,000 increase, bringing his salary to $48,000.
Augilar manages 200 employees at $50,000 a year.
“If you look at other municipalities, her salary should’ve been $80,000,” Gardner said. “I told her after she built the department and proved herself with the added responsibilities, I don’t think a $5,000 increase from $50- to $55,000 a year is excessive.”
Smart and Aguilar were given the raises once they satisfied the descriptions of their jobs.
District B Councilwoman Terika Williams-Walker, at a previous council meeting, admitted she did not vote for the budget because of the raises for the Economic Development director and the Human Resources director.
“There’s some things in there (budget) that need to be ironed out,” Walker said, as her reason for voting against it. “And the mayor’s aware of it. There are some employees that have not been here for a long period of time that are getting raises. That’s an issue.”
Walker and District C Councilman Vincen Bradford have maintained through the budget discussion that Gardner should not have promised raises to the persons in those positions.
It has put the two employees in an unwanted spotlight.
“If the only way they can pass the budget is that the mayor has to take the contract pay increases out, then of course, that opens up for litigation,” Smart said. “If the pay increases come out, it’s a breach of contract and would leave them open to a lawsuit.”
Smart went on to say that would include a loss of wages, humiliation and slander.
“I’ve had emails and phone calls from people saying I’m holding up the budget and it’s because of me,” Smart said. “Not only that, but it puts my family in a weird position. My wife hears it about it all the time.
“I heard my name and my title mentioned at the last council meeting more than 30 times,” he continued, adding he is now on anxiety medication.
Gardner said since he was hired, Smart has brought 58 new businesses to the area, 219 jobs and $20M in bricks and mortar.
“And I dumped the occupational license on him and did not give him an increase,” Gardner said. “It was not in his job description.”
Smart and Aguilar moved their families to Minden when they took these positions. Aguilar said she is also considering a lawsuit, if the contract is breached.
“It was a contract, and I’m happy to be here, knowing that increase would happen,” Aguilar said. “I’ve done a lot to build that department and help the City of Minden to stay in compliance.”
Aguilar said she has not received the same negativity from the public as Smart.
“There have been a few naysayers, some saying I’m just a pencil pusher, but they aren’t here every day and don’t know what I do,” she said. “The positive and the affirmation is what reminds me I’m doing a good job.”
Her job includes working with retirees, new hires, compliance laws and reworking a handbook that was created in the 1900s, ensuring it is legal. She meets with department heads to discuss the rules and how they are working. “And that’s not even half of what I do,” she added.
City attorney Jimbo Yocum rendered an opinion on the negotiations among Gardner, Smart and Aguilar. It reads in part:
“As Mayor, you act as the “CEO” for the City’s business and thus you are an “Agent” for the City and are tasked with conducting its day-to-day affairs and operations. Consequently, this responsibility includes hiring employees and performing any negotiations attached to their hiring. As an Agent of the City, the City is bound by the decisions and agreements which you enter into in your capacity as Mayor.”