HR director resigns in wake of salary tussle

Mary Ann Hardie has accepted a job with the City of Lacey
By Brian Soergel | May 22, 2019
Photo by: Brian Soergel From December 2016: Mary Ann Hardie outside Edmonds City Hall.

At the close of Tuesday’s three-hour City Council meeting – one unremarkable in its ordinariness – Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling dropped a semi-shocker by announcing the resignation of Human Resources Director Mary Ann Hardie.

Her resignation is effective June 21. Hardie already has a new job lined up, as on May 16 she accepted a position to become HR director for the City of Lacey. Her first day is June 24.

“It came down to the people,” Hardie said Wednesday. “Not that Edmonds doesn’t have great people.”

Hardie, 45, said she is excited to relocate to Thurston County, and she and her husband plan to take advantage of the many outdoor activities the area offers.

“I will miss Edmonds, but am excited about going there. Timing-wise, it was really nice. It was just too good of an opportunity to overlook.”

“Mary Ann has the qualities the City was looking for in its new human resources director,” said Scott Spence, Lacey city manager. “Her experience and demonstrated ability in the human resources profession will greatly benefit the 270 city employees who perform essential services to the Lacey community.”

Hardie’s departure comes after several acrimonious council discussions between City staff and councilmembers on Earling’s proposal to give raises of 8 percent (which included a 3 percent cost-of-living bump) to seven City directors and two assistant police chiefs.

That proposal was voted down May 7 by a majority including Adrienne Fraley-Monillas, Diane Buckshnis, Mike Nelson and Kristiana Johnson.

Before announcing Hardie’s resignation, Earling read a statement that seemed to suggest Hardie’s decision was due to “flat-out derogatory” comments by select councilmembers regarding City directors and Hardie herself.

Hardie’s resignation letter did not mention past meetings or single out any grievances.

To recap, Earling’s proposal was to give raises to the nine directors, most of whom have reached the top of their salary schedules and are nonrepresented, meaning they are not part of a union.

On May 7, Council President Fraley-Monillas – who made the motion for no increase and has said that directors’ salaries are comparable to other cities – joined Buckshnis in voicing the strongest opinions in rejecting Earling’s proposal.

“Our directors do a good job for the city,” she said, admitting that feelings had been hurt during the salary process. “No one is disputing that. But so do the 50 rank-and-file members who work in represented positions, including engineering, finance, IT, and others, who have been without a contract since 2017 …

“The administration is requesting increases to the nine highest-paid members of the staff due to eight of the nine being at the top of the band, and will receive no further increases other than cost-of-living.

“Where’s the fairness in requesting an 8 percent increase for just a few employees? My concern lies with the program coordinator, who’s been on staff for 33 years and has been at the top of their band for 10 years. My concern lies with the 30-year employee of the Edmonds Cemetery who’s been at the top step of their band for 10 years. My concern lies with the program manager who has been with the City for 25 years, and the only salary increase they look forward to is a cost-of-living one.”

But it was Buckshnis who had the harshest comments about directors and Hardie herself.

“To me, this was an issue of how it was processed, how it was presented, and (was) a direct conflict of interest,” she said. “I, being a former regulator, when I see an HR person – (and) we all know what an ethics and conflict of interest is – she goes and creates new steps, and creates more money for herself. This is something that I didn’t support how it went into the budget – it’s a nondepartmental placeholder, and I don’t support it from this standpoint that it is a direct conflict of interest.

“All along I’ve been saying we should get someone new in here that’s an independent person, like we did seven years ago, and have that person look at everybody’s (salary) step, including our wonderful directors.”

It was those comments that drew Earling’s ire, as he prefaced his remarks by saying some council remarks did not adhere to the City’s code of ethics.

“(I have) witnessed some members at this council make inaccurate, harshly critical, and even flat-out derogatory comments to some of (the) directors during council meetings. When one of our City directors is unfairly maligned by City electeds during a public meeting, I feel compelled to speak up and correct the record.

“The most recent example occurred two weeks ago, when one of our councilmembers disparaged the City’s director of Human Resources by claiming she had failed to fulfill her job duties, had provided false information, and had acted out of her own self interest by recommending salary levels per City directors to the council.”

Hardie was one of the nine proposed to get a pay increase.

Earling said Hardie was simply doing her job by following the council-approved policy and procedure in providing well-researched director salary information and recommendations to council for its review.

“It is council's prerogative then to determine directors’ salary levels based on the information they receive,” Earling continued. “But to insult the City staff member who is tasked with providing that information – let alone questioning the director's integrity – is simply unacceptable. It undermines her professional reputation and the reputation of the Edmonds City staff in general.”

New statement from Buckshnis

On Wednesday, Buckshnis released the following statement to the Beacon.

“As a former regulator, I was concerned that the council approved an unknown 2019 ‘placeholder’ in the nondepartmental budget for $109,000 without having any information on what that represented, other than it was a placeholder for salary increases for the directors and assistant police chiefs with the exception of the police chief, who was to have money put into his retirement.

“This process should have been vetted through the entire council prior to approving the budget. Some may not remember, but a few years ago a finance director removed a receivable from the City books for $4.9 million (offsetting payable was the Public Facilities District) as a prior period adjustment.

“After vetting through the Governmental Accounting Standards Board, it was found that the interpretation of the guidance was incorrect, and the City had to restate their audited financial statement and recognize the receivable/payable transaction. It was also broadcast in the media that the administration was blaming council, and the finance director retired.

“While this $109,000, 2019 placeholder is immaterial from an auditing standpoint, the concept is still the same in that council should be informed of all potential monetary changes to the budget.

"As I stated during the deliberation, a 2019 decision packet should have been created for vetting by council, as it would have brought up the inadequacy of the policy in that a breach of the spirit of the policy had occurred as the seven-step band was no longer the norm and an entirely new band for the directors and assistant police chiefs was created.”

Buckshnis said there was nothing in policy about placing money in a retirement account.

“It is unfortunate how this played out in public, as we all know what a marvelous job our directors and police do for our city.”

Support for HR director

On Tuesday, both Councilmembers Dave Teitzel and Neil Tibbott, who voted for increasing the directors’ salaries, spoke out.

“Well, I’m somewhat speechless here,” Teitzel said after Earling read his statement and Hardie’s resignation letter out loud at the meeting.

“My experiences and interactions with (Hardie) have always been first-rate. She's been a responsive, very accurate, diligent, just a pleasure to work with … I'm very disappointed to hear this news.

“I'm thinking what precipitated this and I think is a feeling of lack of respect and feeling a lack of trust … I think by taking on the act of a parallel salary study, that sent a message to Mary Ann that we didn't trust and respect her work. If I were in her shoes, I think I would take the same action. I don't think I could work here knowing that my board of directors, if you will, feel that way about my work.”

Said Tibott: “(Mary Ann) Hardie has provided an incredible service to our city over the years. I saw her work especially hard to pull together numbers that were incredibly complex and arrange them in a way that a layman could make sense of them. I wish her well in her next occupation, and I’m sorry to see her go. And I think they are going to be difficult shoes to fill.”

14-year employee

Hardie’s 14 years in Edmonds include being the HR director 2.5 years. Before that, she was an HR manager for five years, HR analyst for three years, and HR assistant for 3.5 years.

When she was named HR director in September 2016, Edmonds had its first HR director since 2011 and the fiasco that was the feud between then-Mayor Mike Cooper and then-HR director Debi Humann.

Humann would go on to win a lawsuit over her termination from the City.

Current Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Director Carrie Hite has been serving as the HR reporting director for the department since Humann’s departure, while Hardie was the HR manager.

“I'm greatly appreciative of having had the privilege to work with you, our esteemed mayor,” she wrote in her resignation letter to Earling, “and the trust you have placed in me as well as the respect and dignity with which you have treated me as a certified senior professional in Human Resources, upholding the ethics of my profession through my work.”

In her new job, Hardie will serves as a member of Lacey’s executive team reporting directly to the city manager. Her position is responsible for a department budget in excess of $1.1 million.

Six full-time employees assist the director in providing administrative and support services to all city departments related to recruitment, training, risk management, safety compliance, and performance management.

In addition, the human resources department manages labor contract negotiations and employee relations.

 

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