by Tony E. Rutherford, News Editor
Huntington Council Overwhelmingly Approves Pay Grade Flexibility

Following the departure of Brandi Jacobs – Jones (director of finance and administration) and Skip Holbrook, police chief, Mayor Steve Williams asked council for the ability to revise administrative pay grades. Williams stressed the addition of higher categories is necessary to compete against other cities of Huntington’s size for world class applicants.

The matter has been amended and examined by council’s finance committee. Numerous council members had expressed “economic” reasons for not adding to certain administration salaries, such as the Police Chief, City Attorney and Director of Finance and Administration.

Retired Circuit Judge Dan O’Hanlon,  vice chancellor for technology WV Higher Education Policy Commission and director of WVNET, told council members during the public hearing Huntington’s professional wages are  “not competitive.”

Referring to the surges in crime after police officers on the street were cut during Mayor David Felinton’s term due to financial issues, O’Hanlon stated, “We have crawled our way back (in the war on crime)… it’s absurd to pay the police chief $70,000 a year… We do not want to backslide. Give the Mayor the ability to recruit quality people.”

The Huntington resident also operates a bee farm.

Huntington Council Overwhelmingly Approves Pay Grade Flexibility

At large councilman David Ball had previously announced his intention to “vote his conscience” by not supporting the ordinance. One of his contentions was that other Huntington rank and file employees would object to the administrative increases.

However, the presidents of the city’s three unions appeared before the vote to tell council members that they supported the ordinance and had confidence in the words of Mayor Williams.

Ray Canafax, president of Local 289 of the Professional Firefighters Association, indicated that the union previously had “several questions” concerning the rates. Following a meeting with the mayor where he explained his vision and answered questions, Canafax told council members, “We are not opposed. We want to see the city move in the exceptional direction.”

Danny Plybon, president of Local 598 American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, assured council that “you can not snatch good people off a tree” to recruit. “We have no concerns as a union,” he said.

Plybon continued, “ We have been behind (the mayor) from the start. We trust the mayor and his vision. We trust Huntington City Council and its vision. We need people to work together.”

The new president of FOP Gold Star Lodge 65, Brian Lucas, told council, “The mayor has a distinct vision. We trust the Mayor.”

Huntington Council Overwhelmingly Approves Pay Grade Flexibility

Tom McCallister spoke against the pay ranks pointing out that hiring a fire chief from outside the city during the Wolfe administration was unsuccessful.

Prior to the vote, Mark Bates, council chairman, stated, “We (need) this to retain the staff we have.”

Though rumors of a close vote and citizen resistance had persisted, the body (with Tom McGuffin absent) voted 9-1 to grant the Mayor the flexibility for administrative pay grades.As promised, David Ball voted his conscience and cast a "no" vote.