The public process for merit increases involving some of the Town of Wellesley’s most prominent employees—in this case, Fire Chief Rick DeLorie, Police Chief Jack Pilecki, and Executive Director Meghan Jop—is inevitably awkward, and the pandemic has made it even more so (see Wellesley Media recording just before the 53-minute mark).
The town has stressed financial restraint across departments for the past year-and-a-half, so discussing raises for high-paid staff regardless of their strong performances under difficult circumstances is a touchy topic.
The Select Board recommended a 2% increase for Chief DeLorie, whose earnings listed in the town’s FY20 annual report were about $181K. He oversaw a team that has persevered with a significantly short staff and key members becoming sick with COVID-19.
A 2% increase was the Human Resources Board’s recommendation for senior managers across town departments, though the Select Board has leeway to determine merit increases for the contract employees it evaluates. Select Board Chair Tom Ulfelder emphasized that the Select Board does not set town-wide guidance on increases, though that distinction may not be clear to all.
Select Board member Beth Sullivan Woods said,”I guess this is an unusual year because I look at the percentage as not necessarily reflective across town of the extraordinary work that our department heads, including Chief DeLorie, have done in very unsettled times. I view us sticking with the guideline of 2% as part of a collaborative effort across town in a unified way to act in a fiscally prudent and sound way that’s not necessarily reflective of our assessment of going above and beyond in some areas…”
Then the Board, based on its performance evaluation, recommended a 3% boost for Chief Pilecki, whose earnings in the FY20 annual report were listed as roughly $184K. Pilecki’s department has dealt with well documented challenges during the pandemic, while the chief has been a leader on social justice, environmental, and other fronts.
When discussion began, Board member Ann-Mara Lanza described herself as a big Pilecki supporter. But she asked her peers for clarification on why the Board wouldn’t be sticking with a 2% increase across the board.
Lise Olney said that one difference here is that those whose salaries were being discussed are among a relatively few contract employees for the town. “These are among the employees who have the greatest responsibility over the town,” she said.
Sullivan Woods emphasized her respect for the job that Pilecki and the police department have done, and described herself as “a very strong advocate for paying our valuable staff very well” vs. comparable peers in other communities. But she also said that giving out higher-than-standard increases raises equity issues: “If we are looking at our other departments that have worked and have been in very challenging situations also, we do have an obligation to walk the talk, and our talk has been buckle down, we want to keep the town strong, we want to keep everyone competitive. But we’re going to stay at 2% and we’re going to cut the budgets…”
She suggested a method might be needed to address salaries for “superstar” employees.
Colette Aufranc acknowledged the Board is walking a fine line by voting for merit increases above 2%, but said she felt comfortable doing so in light of the employees’ excellent performance. “I’m very comfortable giving these merit increases because of the nature of the work that was done last year, and without these leaders we just couldn’t have done this,” she said.
The Board voted 4 ayes and 1 abstention in favor of the raise.
It then recommended at 3% increase for Executive Director Jop, who last year got a 7.5% boost in an effort by the Select Board to get her compensation to a level similar to that of those in comparable jobs, such as town managers, in other communities (then-Select Board Chair Marjorie Freiman explained at the time that the Board didn’t have any option to give a one-time bonus). Jop’s earnings in the FY20 annual report are listed as $202K.
Ulfelder called Jop a critical employee with vast institutional knowledge: “I will never forget the 4pm calls on a daily basis with COVID and her management of those calls. Without her leadership the Town of Wellesley would have been in a serious state of affairs.”
Others didn’t argue with Ulfelder’s praise for Jop, but the discussion essentially repeated the one surrounding Pilecki’s raise. Lanza noted that when she met previously with Jop, the Executive Director advocated for herself getting 2% “because you felt it was important for you as a leader to get the same raise as what had been advocated across the town…and I don’t want to put you into a difficult situation.” (Jop confirmed during the meeting that she did recommend this.)
Sullivan Woods, who stressed her overall support for the job Jop is doing, voted against the 3% increase based on similar concerns aired during the police chief’s salary increase discussion. The Board overall voted in favor of it by a 4-1 count.
Jop took on the executive director role in spring of 2019, 6 months after leaving Wellesley to take a job in North Andover closer to her home. Jop had previously worked for Wellesley for more than 16 years, most recently as assistant executive director.