License Commissioner Nick Matranga believes the Mobile County Commission is holding his office to a double standard when it comes to personnel decisions because of issues that arose while his predecessor, Kim Hastie, was still in office.
Last June, commissioners revoked Hastie’s authority to manage her department’s personnel after she attempted to give 28 promotions simultaneously. The county had previously allowed “appointing authorities” to work directly with the Personnel Board on HR matters, provided they stayed within their allocated budget.
At the time, commissioners said Hastie was routinely exceeding her budget, and voted to revoke that appointing authority as a result. Hastie has since become the Mobile County Revenue Commissioner, but her successor at the license commission still hasn’t regained the right to manage his employees without the County Commission’s oversight.
Matranga now believes that extra burden on his office is in “direct conflict” with state law, and though he never mentioned the possibility of litigation when addressing commissioners July 27, Matranga did say he wanted them “to be fully aware of the ramifications” of their actions.
“We feel the commission does not have the authority to have revoked it, and that’s why we’re asking you to rescind that agenda item from last June,” Matranga said. “I’ve got a managerial duty to deal with my people just like every other agency.”
Commission President Jerry Carl opted to delay a vote on Matranga’s request for two weeks for further evaluation, while Commissioners Connie Hudson and Merceria Ludgood were quicker to take sides on the issue.
Hudson said it would be wrong to continue denying Matranga “respect and abilities” that the heads of other supporting agencies receive, but Ludgood once again expressed concern over Matranga’s recent attempts to use savings in his IT budget to cover personnel expenditures.“You came to us when you fired APL [Software Inc.] and said, ‘We’re going to save the county money.’ Instead of saving the money, you started giving raises, which in my judgment has created an obligation,” Ludgood said. “You’ve created a situation where we have people who are at a certain wage and we can’t take them back down.”
The county terminated a contract with APL Software in December 2015, a move Matranga said would save a total of $690,000 over three years. However, when Matranga asked the commission to use some of that savings to fund promotions within his office, the request was voted down 2-1.
Ludgood said providing raises in that sort of “boutique fashion” would create a kind of inequity in a county merit system that typically sees across-the-board cost of living adjustments. Matranga disagreed, though, claiming other agencies routinely “move money” within their own budgets to cover personnel expenditures.
“You can hire one person for $1 million or a million people for $1 a piece, but they just look at it as, you’ve got a million bucks,” Matranga told Lagniappe. “If the Sheriff bought too many bullets, would it get their attention? The answer is no because he moves money around. He can hire people and fire people, and they don’t really see it.”
Matranga doesn’t believe his department will be in danger of going over budget, as long as it continues to receive the same appropriation it’s seen in the past few years, However, both Carl and Ludgood suggested that might not be the case given the reduction in Matranga’s IT expenses.
“You do understand that if you don’t need the APL money, that won’t be in your budget. You do understand that?” Ludgood asked. “I’m only one vote, but that wouldn’t make any sense to me.”
While the county’s finance department disagreed that the license commissioner could deliver on his promise to stay in budget, Matranga said that issue is separate from his efforts to regain the appointing authority his office previously held.
He also added that keeping his department from hiring necessary employees could translate to longer wait times for the general public when conducting business at the license commission.
“Do you want to go back to one employee and four-hour wait times, or do you want to have 110 employees and a 10-minute wait?” Matranga said after Wednesday’s meeting. “If you want to run things there, give that job up and come down and be the license commissioner.”
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