Local Government and Politics, News

Swampscott’s $30,000 employee performance bonus system irks some at Town Meeting

SWAMPSCOTT — Town Meeting members passed a $68.74 million town budget Monday night, but the $30,000 allocated for a performance-based bonus system determined by the town administrator irked some.

William DiMento, a Town Meeting member and local attorney, proposed an amendment that would drop a budget line set aside for bonuses for 19 department heads or non-union Town Hall employees from $30,000 to zero, essentially eliminating Town Administrator Sean Fitzgerald’s power to grant those incentives based on performances.

But ultimately, the request for an amendment was defeated and Town Meeting members opted to keep the $30,000 funded.

DiMento said his proposal wasn’t based on whether the people awarded those bonuses were deserving of the extra pay, but he said it sets a bad precedent. He argued that if Town Hall employees were able to receive those bonuses from Fitzgerald at “his personal discretion,” then Police Chief Ronald Madigan and Fire Chief Kevin Breen should be able to award them to their staff as well.

Along the same lines, of the school department, DiMento said “boy, could they use a bonus system to attract people.” He didn’t know about the same $30,000 allocated for bonuses last year, but he said if he did, he would have opposed it.

“It’s a very bad precedent,” DiMento said. “This is the town of Swampscott and you’re dealing with public funds. In my mind, it’s a very dangerous thing for people to be doling out bonuses for what they think is a great job.”

Peter Spellios, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said the bonus system only applies to 19 department heads and staff at Town Hall who are not members of unions and are therefore not under contract, and are dependent on cost of living increases, rather than negotiated raises and other incentives.

Spellios said the bonus system gives a tool to those 19 people and sends a signal to Fitzgerald that he’s trusted with handling a $68.74 million budget. He argued that the cost associated with employee turnover far outweighs the $30,000 budgeted.

“I certainly trust (Fitzgerald) with making the judgment calls as to the personnel decisions regarding those 19 individuals … and that $30,000 has been decided based on performance, based on effort,” Spellios said.

Darren Klein, town counsel, said it wouldn’t be as simple to allow the police and fire chief to determine performance-based bonuses because it would have to be agreed upon by the unions through collective bargaining negotiations. State- and nationwide, unions have not always agreed to performance bonuses, deciding those funds should be spent in the form of universal cost of living increases, he said.

Timothy Dorsey, chairman of the finance committee, said there was lots of discussion about the performance-management line item, but he said the determination by the committee was that the pros outweighed the cons. He said the system creates a culture of excellence and recognizes the pertinent staff working nights and weekends “doing excellent things.”

“(We) didn’t think it needed to grow at this time, but we thought it was a worthwhile tool for the town administrator to award excellence,” Dorsey said.

With the performance system, Fitzgerald said he wants to motivate and encourage those employees doing good public service work to continue that effort, which betters the town.

The passed budget included a $75,000 reduction in the police overtime budget, a recommendation of the Finance Committee, which reduces overtime pay for the department to $635,988.

Town Meeting reconvenes on Tuesday night.


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