The Joseph City Council has backed off - in the face of legal advice and citizen complaints - and will take another look at the salary hike approved for its newly promoted public works director, Rowdy Smith.

Until it can reconsider, and possibly revise, the city's pay schedule, councilors unanimously reduced Smith's salary from the $3,812 per month it approved by a 4-2 vote at a special meeting Nov. 13 to $3,192, the amount set out for his classification in the pay schedule.

It's not so much the decision the council made but instead the process it used that made Smith's salary hike (from $2,712 before the promotion) problematical, attorney Mark Tipperman told council members at the Dec. 4 meeting.

He said that by not following the city's personnel management ordinance, which refers to the salary guidelines, the councilors opened themselves up to potential personal legal liability if an incensed citizen decided to pursue it that far. He noted that the council very well might come to the same conclusion. "Mr. Smith's salary is not absolutely prohibited, but done improperly in my opinion. ... Better to be safe than sorry, to be squeaky clean," he said.

Tipperman, who is serving as interim city attorney, expressed his legal opinion at the request of councilor Heather Tyreman - who identified herself as one of negative votes in November's salary vote.

A number of Joseph residents had expressed their displeasure during a public comment session The attorney admitted that his opinion about possible liability had changed after reading the complete minutes of the Nov. 13 decision.

After discussion, councilor Mark Lacey made the motion that the council follow the attorney's legal advice. After clearing up confusion about exactly what that advice was, the council voted to look again at the personnel ordinance and pay schedule, and at least until possible changes are made, to reduce Smith's salary.

Many of the residents who spoke during the meeting to criticize the council emphasized they were not criticizing Smith personally.

"To my knowledge he has been doing a good job," Dick Burch said. He objected to the process of the decision, which he said did not follow Joseph's own law regarding the promotion. Burch pointed out a six-month provisionary clause, and added the ordinance is "obviously intended" to emphasize competition and finding the best candidate when filling a vacancy, even though it also it also encourages promotion within the city.

Burch quoted the ordinance in regards to compensation: "Upon initial appointment to a position, the employee shall receive the minimum salary for the class to which the position is allocated." Burch said that provision was ignored.

"The public process has been a train wreck," said Ed Pitts, who accused the council of "breaking the budget" and not following its own ordinance.

Among other citizens who spoke to object to the council's Nov. 13 decision were Clem Falbo, Jan Blair, John McCoglan and Don Swart.

In defense of the council, Sheilia Ames said she was glad there was mixed opinions on the council and the counselors are willing to take public criticism. She thanked them all for their service.

Councilor and mayor-elect Dennis Sands said he felt that misinformation about the issue was being disseminated by e-mails and letters. For example, he said that the $70,000 which was reported to be Smith's new salary and benefit package, was actually about $62,000 after the raise.

He said he was happy to see everyone at the meeting expressing their opinions. "This is a great little town, not a great big town," he added, saying that the only way the city can get things done is "all working together."

Councilor Teresa Sajonia, who made the original motion for Smith's salary, said she understood at that time the salary schedule was merely a guideline and not part of an ordinance. She said she'd done extensive research about the pay for similar jobs in the region, and, based on merit, still feels like the salary was a fair one.

The next Joseph City Council meeting is scheduled Jan. 8 at 7 p.m..

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