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The City Journals

Sandy city council memo describes concerns with mayor’s office hiring practices

Feb 19, 2019 01:50PM ● By Justin Adams

By Justin Adams | [email protected]

UPDATE: Discussion on this issue was pushed to a later city council meeting.

One of the first items on the budget for the Feb. 19 Sandy city council meeting was a report from the city council office on the organization of the city administration, specifically the mayor’s office. A memo attached to the agenda, written by Council Director Mike Applegarth, outlines various concerns with recent hiring decisions by the mayor. (A download link for a PDF of the memo is at the bottom of this article.)

The concerns surround the creation of three new positions within the mayor’s office: a project analyst manager, who reports directly to the mayor, as well as a management analyst and a project analyst, who both report to the project analyst manager.

The first concern, as laid out in the memo, is the city council did not budget for that many full-time positions within the mayor’s office. Sandy city code specifies that the mayor “may, subject to budget constraints, appoint… one or more deputies or administrative assistants to the mayor.”

Despite reporting directly to the mayor, the new positions are not funded through the mayor’s office budget. They are funded through the office of the chief administrative office’s budget. “Accounting for these positions within [the mayor’s office] will likely indicate that the Mayor’s Office has overrun its budgeted salary and benefits at the coming year-end,” the memo reads.

Mayor Kurt Bradburn told the Sandy Journal that the new positions are essentially replacing two assistant chief administrative officer positions, previously held by Shane Pace and Korban Lee, who both left the city at the end of last year for other opportunities.

When you compare the combined salaries of those two positions to the newly created positions, the mayor said that the city has saved $37,000.

“I’m very pleased with the cost savings we’ve implemented,” he said.

Another concern raised by the memo is that there was no open recruitment for the new positions.

The memo clarifies the mayor is within his right to appoint whoever he likes to positions within his office, but says that foregoing an open application process “lacks transparency” and “is the type of practice that makes people skeptical of government.”

Bradburn acknowledged to the Sandy Journal there was no application process and that he has personally known Brandy Smith, the project analyst manager, for “years and years.”

Bradburn said hiring people he knows is crucial to being able to accomplish his goals.

“When you’re in the position that I am where I’m only guaranteed four years here to try to make the changes that the people have asked me to make, I needed to surround myself with people that I know trust me and my vision and what I’m trying to accomplish,” he said.

“It’s the same reason why I brought in a CAO that I knew personally. It’s the same reason why I brought in a deputy mayor that I knew personally. It’s the same reason why I brought in a city attorney that I knew personally.”

The memo also claims that the new positions have had a negative impact on employee morale throughout the city. It says that the city council receives “near-constant feedback from administrative employees about their working conditions.”

The memo goes on to anonymously quote multiple city employees voicing their displeasure about the situation.

“I have worked here a long time. I have a master’s degree. And she starts off with no experience making $90,000 because they go to the same gym,” said one anonymous employee.

To this, the mayor said “Any time you have an organization of 800 people you’re going to have people comparing their salaries, and you’re going to have people that feel like they’re underpaid and overqualified for their job. That’s not news to me or anyone who’s ever managed a large organization.”

Other employee comments questioned the purpose of the new positions.

“All they [the Project Analyst Manager and Project Analyst] do is follow the Mayor around and take pictures of him,” said one.

“The Mayor came to the January birthday recognition for five minutes and was filmed the whole time by [one of the new hires]. What kind of message did that send? Is it really about recognizing us or is it about the Mayor getting seen recognizing us?” said another.

The city council director’s memo appears to lend some legitimacy to that argument, saying that the new positions are “essentially personal communications staff to the Mayor.”

During last week’s city council meeting, Bradburn addressed this issue, saying that the positions “are tasked with really just anything that the departments need, specifically around engagement… So they’re helping the departments take all the stuff that they are doing, whether it’s passports or snow plow removal or fleet or grants or whatever and they’re helping get that information out to residents.”

The main way that they “get information out to residents” appears to be social media. For example, the Sandy City Facebook page recently published an informative video about how residents can register for a U.S. passport at city hall. The video is stylized like a Wes Anderson movie and prominently features Bradburn and his family.

When the Sandy Journal asked Mayor Bradburn directly about the purpose of these positions, he didn’t mention social media. Instead, he said that they are tasked with data-analysis projects to help the city and its many departments “make more data-driven decisions.”

“They can go out to the different departments and help them with whatever they might need,” he said. “It could be research on projects. Researching comp plans, pay plans. They’ve done a lot of research about leave programs. They manage our qualtrics survey program, analyzing the data that comes in.”

When the Sandy Journal asked Bradburn if Smith, the project analyst manager, has any experience in data analysis, he said that he’s “very comfortable with the private experience she’s had,” citing eight years of employment with the Human Resources company ADP, where he said she “managed groups of onboarding trainers.”

“She’s very versed in employee engagement and outreach,” he said.

The memo closes by making several recommendations such as “addressing the payroll discrepancy,” “investigating employee morale more thoroughly,” and “getting a second opinion from legal counsel” about the balance of power within Sandy city.

Have a tip or story suggestion about Sandy City. Email Justin at [email protected]