ELYRIA — Police Chief Duane Whitely will not become the next Middleburg Heights police chief.
Elyria’s top cop didn’t get the job that went to Deputy Chief Ed Tomba of the Cleveland Police Department. But the 27-year veteran of the department said he is “keeping (his) options open,” as it pertains to the next step in his career.
“We will see what comes and go from there,” Whitely said.
Mayor Holly Brinda said she wants City Council to start thinking now about why Whitely sought another job outside the city leading a much-smaller department, and how the police chief’s salary and benefits come into play.
“I think that the police chief has been entertaining other options because of salary,” she said.
Whitely, who has been chief since 2010, has a base salary of $87,903. With longevity — the pay incentive given to longtime employees at 1 percent per year up to 20 years — Whitely’s salary increases to $105,483.
Last year, Whitely made $109,824 after selling back hours of vacation time.
By comparison, the Middleburg Heights job starts around $130,000.
Brinda didn’t get the discussion she wanted Monday night as Councilman Vic Stewart, D-at large and chair of the Finance Committee, elected to table the agenda item at the last minute. Stewart said he wanted to receive additional information from Finance Director Ted Pileski before moving forward.
The time for such a talk is likely playing a part as Pileski has repeatedly warned Council about the city’s financial worries, particularly in the general fund. However, the Police Department is funded heavily with portions of income tax revenue coming from three sources: the general fund, police levy fund and Issue 6 fund.
City officials said about 20 manager, department head and superintendent positions have salaries below the market average, and with the upcoming retirements of City Engineer Tim Ujvari and Parks and Recreation director Lisa Bowman, Brinda said starting salaries will be more of an issue than not in the coming months.
“We are having difficulty filling some management positions because the salaries we have adopted are not competitive with like and neighboring communities,” Brinda said. “What we found was when we looked at surrounding and like communities in the Northeast Ohio region is most communities establish salary ranges, meaning there is a minimum and maximum salary that they can negotiate with. We don’t have that, and it is limiting our ability to negotiate.”
For those upper-level positions, Brinda would like for Council to establish a policy that eliminates longevity, creates a minimum and maximum salary range more in line with market averages, requires annual reviews and provides cost-of-living increases that tie to goals in the reviews. The salary will allow for four steps, each at a 14-percent increase. That is the increase used in the city to differentiate between ranks in the safety forces.
However, in Elyria, the chiefs’ yearly salaries in the Police and Fire departments often end up being less than what lower-ranking officers and firefighters make annually as the less-senior positions still eligible for overtime that pushes up wages.
“This is a huge concern,” Whitely said. “This is not just about me. After I’m gone, no one will come to a city where captains make more than chiefs.”
Using Whitely as the first person to test this new theory, Brinda said the base salary can stay at $87,903 but will end at $130,232.16.
Brinda said she knows the proposed salary adjustment will not save money as the adjustment will be more than longevity, but it has benefits.
“It will allow the city to update antiquated salary schedules. It would eliminate longevity,” she said. “It would allow the city to be more flexible and competitive. And it would prevent high turnover in key positions.”
Police chiefs have a wide range of starting salaries and benefit practices. Cleveland Heights starts at $90,000 and maxes out at $135,000. Euclid has a base of $113,755.20. Kettering, which has a population close to Elyria at 55,906, sets its salary at $128,606. Lorain’s police chief makes a base of $101,464.27.
If successful, Brinda would like to see this philosophical change applied to more positions, a move that could lead to better pools of candidates for key positions.
“Finding the right leadership for these positions is criteria. If you don’t have the right leadership, it sets the tone for the work happening in the city,” Brinda said.
Brinda said Ujvari will return as a consultant until the position is filled, but won’t stay beyond September. Bowman wants to retire completely.