BATAVIA – For the first time since she was hired more than two years ago, Batavia City Administrator Laura Newman is expected to receive a salary increase.
Mayor Jeff Schielke and aldermen said that Newman, who came to city government from the corporate world, went through a tough learning curve as she adapted to the realities of public administration.
Now highly satisfied with Newman’s job performance, they are poised to give her a 4.5 percent salary increase, retroactive to the start of this year.
Since starting in the city’s top job in July 2016, Newman has been earning $165,000 per year.
The 4.5 percent increase would bring Newman’s pay to $172,425 per year, Batavia Human Resources Director Wendy Bednarek said.
However, Newman is requesting that the $6,000-per-year automobile allowance that she receives be incorporated into her salary, bringing the total to $178,425, which would serve to increase her pension benefits through the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund.
This has proved to be a sticking point with members of the Batavia City Council.
At a committee meeting Sept. 26 and again at a full council meeting Oct. 1, aldermen pulled the proposed employment agreement from the agenda at the last minute without discussion.
In interviews with several aldermen, a consistent story emerges.
When the council hired Newman in July 2016, they saw a highly intelligent individual with strong organizational and interpersonal skills. They knew that Newman lacked government experience, but believed she would grow into the role.
Performance reviews after Newman’s first six months and again after a year on the job found that growth to be slower than aldermen had hoped, although they were impressed with Newman’s work ethic. They also liked her management style, noting an ability to delegate authority and responsibility to subordinates while being a fierce defender of the city staff, shouldering the blame for any errors.
Aldermen said they wanted improvements in reports to them from Newman on the day-to-day operations of the city and better communication in general.
“She needed to get her sea legs and now that she has them, it’s full steam ahead,” 1st Ward Alderman Scott Salvati said. “We’re very happy with her performance.”
Third Ward Alderman Dan Chanzit described Newman’s performance as “stellar.”
Sixth Ward Alderman Nick Cerone said Newman is a tireless worker who is “great for the city.”
Yet all three said they are not in favor of converting the vehicle allowance into salary because it would have financial implications for the city.
Cerone also said he is opposed to making the salary increase retroactive, and 2nd Ward Alderman Marty Callahan said he too has reservations.
“As stewards of public funds, we have to scrutinize everything,” Cerone said.
Callahan, 4th Ward Alderman Susan Stark and 7th Ward Alderman Dave Brown also said they are opposed to rolling the vehicle allowance into Newman’s salary. Other aldermen are believed to be opposed as well.
Fifth Ward Alderman Lucy Thelin Atac said she sees no problem in making the vehicle allowance part of Newman’s salary.
Like Stark, Atac said Newman deserves the retroactive pay to the start of the year because the increase was delayed through no fault of the city administrator.
Ordinarily, the city administrator receives a salary increase along with all the other department heads at the start of the year.
Schielke said he is taking the blame for the delay in bringing Newman’s employment agreement to the council.
A nine-month retroactive payment to Newman reflecting the pay increase would total about $5,569, Bednarek said.
Not surprisingly, Newman’s salary increase is drawing fire from the leaders of the Nov. 6 referendum question to revoke the city’s home-rule powers.
“Why consider raising salaries when faced with the possibility of budget cuts?” said Yvonne Dinwiddie, who contends that salaries for the city’s administrators and department heads are already too high.
“Who gets a retroactive salary increase in October?” Sylvia Keppel said.
Actually, most city employees operating under union contracts get retroactive pay increases dated to the expiration of the previous contract, several aldermen said.
The Oct. 1 council meeting agenda included line items both for a closed session to discuss Newman’s employment agreement and a vote in open session. Both were removed at the start of the meeting and it remains unclear when the council will take up the matter again.