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City commission discussion on gender pay equity gets heated

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

During the April 22 City of Gainesville General Policy Committee meeting, the commission discussed Gender Pay Equity, specifically among the City’s charter officers. After a presentation that gave general information about gender pay gaps, Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos began the discussion by pointing out that the City did a study to determine ranges of pay in other local governments, but the point was not “to pay everyone the midpoint. It was to pay people a range based on experience – newer people we pay less; more experienced people would be paid more than the midpoint.” He said that paying all the charter officers at the study midpoint “would have us paying some of the highest pay out of any of the city information we have for comparable positions.” Hayes-Santos pointed out that many of the cities are much larger (like Miami), and many of the positions don’t have the same duties as Gainesville’s charter officers. On top of that, the City pays a car allowance that doesn’t count toward the salary and “I don’t think we should be pushing people to have cars, anyway.” He suggested putting the car subsidy into their salaries.

Commissioner Gail Johnson pointed out that the previous motion leading to the current discussion included a request for job audits of the Director of Equity and Inclusion and City Clerk positions, but that those had not been completed. She added that she hoped the commission would consider back pay for those two positions: “And I have the data for that… but I also believe it’s more than just the fiscal impact. It’s absolutely a philosophical discussion about how we value our employees in the City.” 

Commissioner David Arreola said he supported getting all the charter officers to the midpoint within 2 years. This slide showed the information from consultant Korn Ferry in 2019: 

Johnson showed her calculations of what it would take to get all the charter officers to the midpoint in one year: “The auditor, $13,900; City Clerk, $27,400; City Manager —no, not the City Manager; Equity and Inclusion Director, $35,750, and I want to reiterate, this is based on… the former job duties of all our charter officers… what I believe the data will show when we get back the completed job audit.. is that [the Equity and Inclusion Director and clerk] will need to be at an entirely upgraded range.” She said she wanted to bring all the women charter officers to the midpoint immediately and give them back pay since the change in their job duties. She said that would be almost $48,000 for the City Clerk, about $56,500 for the Director of Equity and Inclusion, and about $14,000 for the City Auditor.

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Commissioner Reina Saco said that each employee had the opportunity to negotiate their contract when they were hired and that people don’t have “an entitlement to the midpoint in every situation… I do not think that back pay is appropriate, given that this was not an intentional or malicious attempt to pay someone less than a male or white peer. For the most part, these are fairly new charters… who had an opportunity to negotiate what they felt was a fair salary.”

Mayor Lauren Poe agreed that the charter officers had all readily agreed to their salaries, but some of the job duties have changed, so he would support paying them more. But he wanted to wait until they had all seven commissioners there to make a decision (Commissioner Gigi Simmons was absent, and Desmon Duncan-Walker will be sworn in at the next meeting).

Johnson moved that 1) Staff come back to the commission with the job audit for the Director of Equity and Inclusion and the City Clerk positions; 2) Staff present salary data disaggregated by gender and race for jobs that are similar in scope and duties; 3) Pay the women charter officers at the midpoint, effective January 2021. She said she didn’t think back pay would pass right now, so she didn’t include it in her motion but would bring it back up when the job audit is presented. 

The motion died for lack of a second, so Poe passed his gavel to Arreola and seconded the motion. 

Johnson spoke against the point that the charter officers negotiated their salaries when they took the job: “I’m going to be very frank. It’s been shown that women typically do not negotiate the salaries that they deserve, for many, many different reasons. I believe the onus is upon us, as a commission, to realize systemic issues within that and correct them. For me, I’m advocating for the women in this city as a woman, as a black person, and as somebody that recognizes the systemic issues that are there and can speak to them and correct them. I believe that is my job.”

She continued: “This is going to be hard to hear, but I’m going to say it, because it’s necessary for the conversation, is that we overpay some of our charter officers, and the demographic of who we overpay is markedly different from those that we underpay, and that needs to be said, because it’s nothing against the charter officers we have right now, right? This is absolutely a worldwide problem and a very American problem. It’s up to us to see the problem and correct it. That needs to be said, that’s the reason why this agenda item is named Gender Pay Equity.”

Saco replied, “I don’t think I’ve ever been mansplained to by a woman, but I guess this job is full of surprises. At no point have I not done my job or not thought about the city and its employees. I think I expressed myself in a practical manner that reflects the studies and the efforts that we have made. I agreed to an increase in pay for two charter officers who have had many duties added to them. While I was not here for the hiring of the City Auditor, I do believe by these very words, ‘We’ll get you to the mid point in a few years,’ does not translate to ‘Next year we’ll get you to the mid point.’  Unless I’m an idiot and I don’t understand the meaning of words now, in addition to not knowing what it feels like to be a woman, in addition to not knowing what it feels like to be a minority. And since those are not the case, I’d like to think I’m correct in thinking there is time to get to the midpoint in the case of the City Auditor… But at no point, and I mean absolutely no point, will anybody in this room, in this institution, or this city, talk down to me as if I don’t know my job!”

During public comment on the agenda item, Armando Grundy-Gomes said, “People talk about mansplaining. I find it very rich that people are going to sit up here and whitesplain to me about  two [black] women who work for you being paid less. You have white men and white women, you have no problem paying them for their work. And a white woman wants to educate Gail Johnson. I guess if this was a migrant worker or Hispanic, it would be a problem. But because it’s a black woman, that’s the problem. Please don’t whitesplain to me, that’s rich, coming from you… This commission has a problem with black women, it is obvious. And you know what, the mayor was correct about one thing, you should probably wait until you get seven commissioners, maybe Desmon might have, she may agree with some of the white commissioners, I don’t know, doubtful… I’m not going to be lectured to about white folks and what it means to be black. I have a black mom. You want to talk about a woman mansplaining, stop whitesplaining to me.”

Arreola indirectly addressed Grundy-Gomes after the motion went back to the commission: “I would like to admonish one of our callers. I understand that public comment is your opportunity to speak your mind. As chair of this particular point, I do take extreme exception when harsh comments are made to the members of this dais.”

The motion was split, and the first 2 parts passed unanimously. The third part (paying the female charter officers at the midpoint) passed 4-2, with Hayes-Santos and Saco in dissent and Simmons absent. 

During further discussion about the car allowance, the City Attorney’s office advised that would require renegotiating the contract of every charter officer, so the motion failed 2-4, with Commissioner Harvey Ward and Hayes-Santos voting for the motion.

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