August 7th, 2009 5:33 pm | by JAMES PITKIN News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Politics, Multnomah County

UPDATED: Pay Raises in Ted Wheeler's Office Anger Leader of Multnomah County's Biggest Union

Wheeler sunglasses

The leader of Multnomah County's largest employee union this week traded heated emails with county Chairman Ted Wheeler over recent salary increases for two members of Wheeler's staff.

Becky Steward, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 88, says the raises send the wrong message to county employees who agreed to salary freezes this year to help the struggling county balance its budget.

"For some members of your staff to get a wage adjustment over everyone else sends a negative message to all county employees who tightened their belts," Steward wrote Wheeler on Aug. 3.

The raises on July 1 went to Tom Rinehart, Wheeler's chief of staff, and Jana McLellan, Wheeler's chief operating officer. Rinehart's salary went from $85,000 to $93,000 — a 9.4 percent increase. McLellan's salary was raised to $120,000. Wheeler's office has not yet responded to a request for how much she was paid before the increase. McLellan called Monday morning to say her salary was $110,000 before July 1.

Last February, Wheeler sent a letter (PDF) to union leaders asking for help balancing the county budget. Wheeler said he was freezing salaries for managers and executives at the county "to show in good faith that managers will share a portion of the sacrifices that we all should consider making."

Other commissioners' staffers agreed to a pay freeze along with AFSCME Local 88. So did the Multnomah County Prosecuting Attorneys Association, the Federation of Oregon Parole and Probation Officers, and the Multnomah County Deputy Sheriffs Association.

In an emailed response to a request for an interview with WW, Wheeler says the raises do not violate his deal with the unions because the raises were negotiated last year, before the pay freeze went into effect.

Rinehart was hired last October on a probationary salary that Wheeler agreed would be bumped up to the same level as Rinehart's predecessor Barbara Willer if Rinehart performed well. And McLellan agreed last year to move from deputy COO to COO on July 1 at her predecessor Bill Farver's starting salary.

All this is laid out in a memo [PDF] McLellan wrote this week after questions arose about the raises. The memo notes that both positions' salaries still are "undervalued in the market" and that Wheeler himself took a 10-percent pay cut this year.

Steward's emails called that memo "very distressing," reminding Wheeler that management had agreed to a wage freeze along with Local 88.

Wheeler's response: "I will take another personal salary cut to account for the difference if that would appease your membership. I cannot turn this behemoth around if I can't get top talent to help me do it."

Steward wasn't having it.

"Thank you for the offer, that isn't going to help," she wrote. "The issue is we were all making a shared sacrifice."

"By your two staff members being treated differently than everyone else," Steward continued, "it sends a message to everyone else (especially management) that they are not considered to be top talent or they would have been given a wage adjustment too. This situation will cause a lot of anger and hurt feelings. I honestly don't know what can be done to help fix it."
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