Four ORPD sergeants ask court to order salary increase

Four veteran Oak Ridge Police Department sergeants, including one who has retired, have asked an Anderson County court to order that their pay be increased to $61,000 per year so they will earn as much as two less-experienced sergeants.

The four sergeants have requested that the pay increase be effective starting Jan. 8, 2012, when they filed a grievance.

They also want the court to overturn or modify a Sept. 7 order from the Oak Ridge Personnel Advisory Board that dismissed their grievance and found no violation of the city’s personnel ordinance.

In a petition filed in Anderson County Chancery Court in November and amended in December, the four sergeants—Philip M. Nall, who retired before Thanksgiving, and Paul Nance, Cartel E. Webb, and Robert M. Pitts—said they each earn about $55,500.

But two other less-experienced ORPD employees who were promoted from patrol officer to detective and then to sergeant received a 10 percent pay increase with each promotion, pushing their total salaries to $61,000, the veteran sergeants said in the Chancery Court petitions. That means the newer sergeants earn about $5,500 more than the veteran sergeants.

In a phone interview Friday, Nall said a flaw in the city’s personnel ordinance essentially allows employees with less experience to earn more than those with more experience.

But the ordinance is “pretty black and white” regarding pay, Nall said.

“It says it should be fair and equitable,” he said.

Oak Ridge Personnel Director Penny Sissom said it’s not unusual for city employees with less experience to earn more through promotions than workers with more experience.

“It’s really nothing unique there,” Sissom said. “We’ve got overlapping pay grades.”

Personnel Advisory Board members voted 5-0 to dismiss the sergeants’ grievance during a Sept. 7 hearing, and they found no violation of the city’s personnel ordinance.

During that hearing, Oak Ridge Senior Staff Attorney Tammy M. Dunn said the city has not been in a financial position recently to adjust pay, as it has in the past, through merit, cost-of-living, and step increases, according to a board order.

“Additionally, the senior staff attorney noted that discrepancies in pay within a job title exist in various departments of the city—not just within sergeants—and are a result of employees’ various experience, past merit increases, longevity, promotions, and other factors such as the overlap in pay ranges for job classifications,” the order said.

“I think they almost recognized that there is a problem, but we just don’t have enough money,” Nall said Friday.

Nall said the newer sergeants, Ronald Boucher and Jock Coleman, who were promoted in January 2012, arrived at their positions legitimately, but he didn’t have a similar opportunity to be promoted the way they were because there was no detective position when he was promoted to sergeant in 1993.

On Monday, Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson said the city rigorously followed proper procedures, and the PAB essentially reaffirmed the city’s policy. Although there is a lot of movement between jobs in public safety, a smaller city like Oak Ridge is limited in the number of positions it can create for employees at different experience levels, Watson said. The city can’t, for example, create a master sergeant position, he said.

Oak Ridge Police Chief James T. Akagi earlier declined to raise salaries for the four sergeants, saying the current system for salary rate increases and compensation is consistent with the best interest of the public and city.

“The arbitrary initiation of pay increases by heads of departments based on the philosophy of internal equity, and ensuing potential for increase of grievances filed and litigation, is not,” Akagi wrote in response to a grievance filed by the sergeants in February.

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  • bill henry

    Four more good, long-term city employees getting screwed.

  • Andrew Howe

    Officer Webb pulled me over one day when I was on my scooter, for supposedly not stopping for a stop sign. However, I saw his patrol car parked as I passed it, and made sure I came to complete and absolute halt.

    The problem is that Sgt Webb was 100 yards directly BEHIND me and therefore had almost zero perspective on my forward movement. The reason he pulled me over was because I didn’t “put my foot down” on the ground when my scooter halted it’s motion. I didn’t do that because I didn’t NEED TO. The stop sign was on an uphill slope and my scooter is low the ground, light weight, and I have good enough balance that I can simply let the scooter stop it’s motion and then continued my forward motion w/o need of putting any foot down.

    When he pulled me over (on my little 50cc scooter – which is technically a motorized bicycle under the law) he pulled the big “bad” cop routine on me, refusing to answer my questions, instead only yelling at me. Rude and well over the top is putting it lightly. He may have let me off with a warning that day, but his behavior on top of an incorrect stop had me arguing with him instead. At the trial he whole-heartedly discounted my logic. Politely though, this time, in front of the judge.

    Don’t give him a raise. Fire him. Maybe the newer officers are getting more because they actually have some grey matter in their heads and some integrity and some personal skills.

    I work in the software field. Seniority doesn’t account for much. A new hire may indeed get more salary than someone who’s been there a while. It’s how the world works. Employers can pay you want they want to pay you. If you don’t like the pay, get another job. Don’t clog up the system with grievances and whining.

    Not that I dislike Webb personally – he’s seemed alright the other times I’ve interacted with him – I just don’t want our police force to be acting like jerks to our public, and if they’re wrong about something, I expect them to be man enough to say so. Webb failed on both counts. He simply lacks the integrity I want in our officers.

    And don’t get me started on the effectiveness of our police force in general. I’ve had to solve my own burglaries, retrieve my own stolen goods, and then when I hand them the perp on a silver platter for a B & E, they don’t even follow up or put out a warrant.

    Last year, a neighbor was a victim of a home invasion. But because the victim was known alcoholic, the force did NOTHING to solve the case, despite the simplicity of tracking down the assailant. My neighbor nearly died and has permanent damage from the attack, and the perp could’ve been tracked down rather simply. The ORPD just didn’t care.

    A few years back, too, some creep drove to my house, drunk as a skunk, and freaked me out enough for me to do some checking up on him. He gave me an assumed name, not his own, so I went to the PD to let them know this guy was still up to his old tricks and using a fake name. You know what they did when I went in? They berated me for “bothering” them. Good job, desk clerk. Why would the PD want to know bew information about repeat offenders, right?

    I’m not happy with the effectiveness / focus / behavior of our police force, obviously, but at least Akagi’s getting us positive results with his drug task force.

    Don’t misunderstand by the way, I’ve had good experiences, too, with our local PD. They’ve truly been there for me once or twice.

    Boy, I’ve been griping on this forum the past few days. Maybe I need a vacation!

  • BobStephenson

    Coming from a military background, this seems wrong that this senior Sgts are getting treated like this. C’mon Watson, do the right thing.

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