The New Bedford City Council will vote tonight on an agenda item that will allow for salary reclassification of city employees – something Mayor Jon Mitchell said will allow New Bedford to attract the best candidates and fill some long-vacant positions.

“The reclassification is essentially a rejiggering of the salary scale for management employees in city government, that is to say non-union employees,” Mitchell said in his weekly appearance on WBSM.

“We negotiate the contracts the union contracts with the various collective bargaining units in the city incessantly. Ordinarily we sign each bargaining up to a three-year contract that invariably includes pay raises every single year,” he said. “In those salary increases, we can sort of keep up a wage scale that is fair and competitive.

However, this reclassification will allow the City of New Bedford to offer more money for management employees that aren’t part of the unions.

“For management employees, we don’t do that periodically," Mitchell said. "What we try to do from time to time is try to update their salary so that we can ensure that we can attract quality candidates to the city, because that’s what the city deserves. It deserves high-quality, sharp, competent, highly competent people doing the very important work of delivering city services and managing folks in city government.”

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Mitchell said the City has been “struggling to fill positions” such as Chief Financial Officer and City Auditor.

“We’ve had some retirements of late, some folks who have gone to other places. There are lots of reasons why there has been turnover,” he said. “But we’ve got to replace those folks and what we’re finding is that we’re swinging and missing too often because our salaries are just not competitive. So we’ve got to keep up, and this reclassification effort is our attempt at ensuring New Bedford gets high-quality folks to assume the really important positions in city government.”

Mitchell said when it comes to hiring those positions, the City is “not getting any bites.” An executive recruiter – or “headhunter” – named Bernie Lynch was hired by the City to find candidates for the CFO and auditor positions, because of his expertise in potential candidates for such positions.

“He spent well over six months beating the bush, just trying to find candidates, and came up empty,” Mitchell said.

He said they did find one highly qualified candidate from a nearby town.

“But he wanted to start at something higher,” Mitchell said. “In order not to take a pay cut from his current position, he had to start at something higher than the first salary step in New Bedford, and to make a long story short, the city council was unwilling to do that, and so we lost him.”

Mitchell said the goal for now is just getting the reclassification of the salaries so the City can offer a higher salary to potential hires, after comparing the salaries currently offered with other cities across New England.

“I do think in the long run, and the vast majority of cities we’ve looked at, the mayor has the authority to start a candidate at a step higher that the first one, because you do need some flexibility when someone wants to be here, but in order to avoid a salary cut, sometimes you have to start at something higher than the bottom,” he said.

He said the council will take up the issue of that flexibility at a later date.

“For now, we’re just resetting all the salaries in a way that is both competitive but also fair across city government, so people feel that the City is trying hard to ensure that everyone is being taken care of and we’re getting the best quality candidates we can, and retaining them as well,” Mitchell said.

If the council approves the reclassification, Mitchell said the increased salaries would go into effect “right away.”

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