Opinion-Editorial: Stipendgate, Part II

 

By FRANK GORDON
In Stipendgate, Part I, I reviewed the process by which the Harrison Town Council inserted a $12,000 annual stipend for the police chief as one of its last-minute changes to the 2014 adopted budget. This after the board granted and, shortly thereafter, rescinded a similar stipend just four months earlier.

This week, in Stipendgate, Part II, I address the merits of the board’s decision. Is the stipend warranted under the circumstances?

First, to reiterate some background: In 2011, Anthony Marraccini was appointed police chief for the Town/Village of Harrison. Previously, he had served as captain of the town’s police department.

The role of captain has remained unfilled since Marra-ccini’s promotion. Accord-ing to the Town Council, since being named chief, Marraccini has continued to perform the duties and responsibilities of police captain in addition to his regular duties and responsibilities as chief.

When the council first approved a stipend for the police chief in early August 2013, it cited as its reason a desire to compensate the chief for his extra work and time in functioning in both capacities, as chief and captain.

According to Mayor Ron Belmont, “Of course, as management, the chief does not receive overtime. Given these facts, the board was in the mindset that a stipend was appropriate as long as the double duty continued.”

That stipend was rescinded later that same month because, in the words of Belmont, “upon further deliberation…a stipend is not appropriate at this time.”

Come December, when the board included a stipend for the chief as an eleventh-hour change to the 2014 budget, the council did not offer an explanation as to why it was doing so but the stipend was widely understood to address the double duty situation.

To determine whether the stipend is warranted, a good starting point would be to compare the Harrison police chief’s compensation and supporting officer corps to those of neighboring municipalities. The results are shown in the table below.

The data show that the police departments of most neighboring municipalities operate without captains. Only three of the 10 selected municipal police departments have captains. Having a captain as next in command to the chief is the exception, rather than the rule. None of the police chiefs or commissioners, other than Harrison’s, receives a stipend, regardless of whether a captain is next in command. The data also shows that the salary of the Harrison police chief ranks first among the selected municipalities.

The conclusions that can be drawn from the data are: Operating without a captain is not unusual for police departments in nearby municipalities. In fact, most operate without captains. The salaries of police chiefs or commissioners that operate without captains are not appreciably different from those that operate with captains; police chief salaries vary, but they do not seem to differ based upon whether a captain is next in command. No police chief operating without a captain, other than Harrison’s, receives a stipend. My ultimate conclusion from this comparative data is that it does not support the decision to approve a $12,000 annual stipend for the Harrison police chief.

From a town human resources perspective, the decision to grant a stipend to the police chief has several drawbacks. It may rankle other town department heads. They may wonder why, when they may be working just as hard as the chief, the chief was singled out by the council for additional compensation. This could cause them to resent the chief, the board and the town as their employer and spur dissension.

In addition, the stipend could serve as an expensive precedent; something that other department heads may demand when situations arise that require them to work long hours for prolonged periods.

Finally, many Harrison residents have been asked or forced by their employers to fill dual roles. During the depths of the recent recession, numerous businesses undertook extensive layoffs to stay competitive. With no new hiring, the remaining employees were required to take on multiple roles, at least temporarily. As the economy has recovered, employers in many cases have postponed new hiring. In some cases, employers have enjoyed the benefits of operating with a leaner structure and have left employees to cover multiple roles permanently. This has become so common that it could be considered the “new normal.”

In this context, the Harrison police chief performing the dual roles of both chief and captain is no different from what countless Harrison residents are being asked to do routinely in their workplaces, without extra compensation.

In light of the factors discussed above, the board’s decision to grant a stipend to the police chief is unwarranted. Comparative data from neighboring towns show Harrison’s police chief is being compensated as well or better than his peers without taking the stipend into account. Having to operate without a captain in the police department is not extraordinary; in fact, it’s quite common. A stipend could spur resentment among other department heads and set an expensive precedent for the future. And performing dual roles at work without extra compensation is something that many Harrison residents have had to adjust to in order to keep their jobs. In short, a stipend for the police chief, rescinded as inappropriate by the mayor and board in August 2013, remains so today.

Frank Gordon is a resident of Harrison. The views expressed are his.
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