North Miami City Manager Stephen Johnson has eliminated five senior jobs at City Hall as part of an effort to cut personnel costs and make more money available for citywide improvements of sidewalks, curbing, lighting, and city buildings.
This has caused one firing, two demotions, and two possible early retirements, pending council approval of a possible new retirement plan that could allow dozens more city staff personnel to retire early.
The departments of Community Planning & Development, Information Technology, Purchasing, Personnel Administration and Parks & Recreation were folded into other city offices. These areas will now be headed by lower-paid “managers” instead of “directors.” Assistant directors in those departments are now assistant managers.
“The city has been broken down into smaller departments,” Johnson said to the Miami Herald on Oct. 4. “And since their departments are smaller now I don’t need a director there, I need managers.”
By removing 10 director and assistant director positions from the city budget, he said saved close to $1 million.
Wages and benefits now make up 55 percent of the city’s budget, according to Johnson. Two years ago it was 67 percent, and he wants to bring it down to 45 percent during the course of the fiscal year, which started Oct. 1.
“Listen I love employees, but cities are not run to be accommodating to employees,” Johnson said. “You have to accommodate to residents. We over expended ourselves in the area of employees, leaving very little for infrastructure and capital improvements.” So he took away a level of management from the city’s organizational structure. He said city staff was too top heavy, citing instances where three managers reported to one director.
The consolidation and downsizing will not affect the city’s level of service to residents, according to Johnson.
“It was my decision to cut from upper management — not lower management, and not lower-level employees — to keep the same level of service for our residents,” Johnson said.
How this process continues depends on whether the City Council approves an early retirement plan that Johnson delayed proposing at the Oct. 8 council meeting.
“The study to determine the cost of the plan and the savings on the employee-reduction end got to me late,” Johnson said Wednesday.
He wants to be propose it at the next meeting on Oct. 22, but it could be delayed further as Johnson wants to give the employees’ unions time to review the plan and see how doable it is.
It includes lowering the retirement age from 65 to 60 and raising certain benefits to entice employees to voluntarily retire early. In the long run Johnson said this will save money and the main reason for potential financial losses from early retirees is because they were employed by the city for many years and therefore leave with a high rate. Should the plan pass, up to 40 city employees could be eligible.
“I don’t know if a lot of people will leave,” Johnson said. “It depends on if it benefits the employees.”
The city will determine the value of the positions of employees who choose to retire early and, if they are necessary, bring in new people at lower rates.
“Can I move forward without filling that position, without impacting city services? Can I consolidate so that it doesn’t impact city services? Or can I bring in new person?”
As with the senior positions, the impact the loss of the lower ones will have on city services is on what Johnson is weighing his decision, and what worries Vice Mayor Scott Galvin
“That’s nice for the bottom line but when all of those years of experience walk away, how does that affect the city?” said Galvin, in an interview.