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.