After a quiet 2-1 vote, the Mobile County Commission moved to rescind a 2015 decision that limited the local license commissioner’s ability to manage that department’s personnel.
As a result, Mobile County License Commissioner Nick Matranga can — for the first time — work directly with the Personnel Board to hire new employees or to extend pay raises and promotions to current license commission employees without pre-approval from the county commission.
Previously, the county had given all appointing authorities that same leeway, provided they stayed within their allocated budget. But last June, commissioners revoked the appointing authority of former license commissioner Kim Hastie.
At the time, commissioners said the office was “routinely exceeding its budget,” but the issue came to a head when Hastie attempted to give 28 simultaneous promotions while she was in the middle of a federal corruption trial.
Hastie went on to beat those charges in court and has since become the Mobile County Revenue Commissioner, but Matranga inherited her additional burden when he was appointed as her successor at the license commission last October.
So far, he’s had at least one request for license commission pay raises denied by the county.Last month, though, Matranga claimed the additional scrutiny of his office was in “direct conflict” with state law, and though the county nor its attorneys ever addressed the legal concerns publicly, commissioners agreed to reverse course and return Matranga’s appointing authority.
After the vote on Monday, Matranga told Lagniappe the decision will put his office back on an equal playing field with other county departments run by elected officials.
“That’s my job — just like the sheriff, the revenue commissioner, the judges and the district attorney. They all have to manage personnel as they look at their budget throughout the year,” he said. “It already takes a couple of weeks to put in a submission to the personnel board, and if I don’t have authority to do that, it just backs everything up even more. Every time I had to come (before the commission), I was just about having to go through a legal battle to hire one employee.”
However, Matranga rejected the notion that commissioners had “given” his appointing authority back. Instead, he again suggested the county never had the proper authority to remove it in the first place — saying he was “being nice” by bringing personnel requests to the commission over the past year.
“They did not give me appointing authority, what they did was rescind what they did last year,” Matranga said. “I always had it, but when Kim Hastie was going through her trial, she didn’t fight it because she had bigger fish to fry.”
Matranga’s request passed with support from Commissioners Jerry Carl and Connie Hudson, and while Ludgood was the lone “no” vote, even she said she understood Matranga’s desire to maintain control of his department’s personnel.
However, she once again expressed concern with the license commission’s budget and believes the commission needs to maintain some sort of “budgetary control” to ensure the county has the funding to cover the recurring costs of any hires or promotions Matranga approves.
Last month the county administration said license commission is already on track to exceed its budget this year, though the Matranga has denied that. Either way, accountants with the county are coming up with different projections than the comptrollers in Matranga’s office, and Ludgood said that’s a problem.“We’re nearing the end of the fiscal year and our numbers are dueling with his numbers,” she said. “I’m just deeply concerned that we’re going to create an inflated license commission budget that we’re going to be stuck with.”
Though a preliminary budget is still being developed, both Ludgood and Carl have already publicly suggested Matranga’s budget might see some cuts in fiscal year 2017 due to the elimination of a large IT contract with APL Software Inc. last December.
Matranga has already tried to use some of the operational savings from that contract termination to cover increased personnel expenses, but just last month, Ludgood told Matranga if he doesn’t need the money saved from APL’s contract, it wouldn’t be in his budget.