KEY LARGO -- The chief for the Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District is meeting some resistance from her request for a 12 percent salary increase.
District Manager Margaret Blank, who earns $111,000 a year, last week asked for an increase to $125,000. Her contract expired in December, but the matter has just recently been brought before the Key Largo Wastewater Board.
In addition to the pay increase, Blank also asked for six more days of vacation. She currently receives 12 days.
"What have you done for me lately, baby?" board member Robby Majeska quipped as the negotiation process began.
Some of the board was taken aback by Blank's request.
"This is kind of a pie-in-the-sky," board member David Asdourian said. "We need to work our way down."
Asdourian said he wanted to see a compensation plan, where everyone from the bottom up, not just senior staff, could earn a raise based on performance.
Board member Andy Tobin proposed offering Blank a bonus rather than a salary increase. Much of the board agreed with the idea of a bonus since Blank had to take over some of the duties of former Chief Financial Officer Sal Zappulla, who abruptly stopped coming to work in late 2011. His contract was not renewed last January. Zappulla now faces criminal charges of hacking into the district's computer system. Those charges have yet to be resolved.
During the salary negotiations, Tobin brought up the relationship between board members and senior staff.
He and Blank have been a bit at odds with each other in email exchanges over whether she or the board should have the final say in the hiring and firing senior staff.
If a senior position opens up, Tobin said he expects Blank to undertake a thorough head-hunting process, but then run her recommendation by the board before finalizing a job offer. Blank has contended that could harm a candidate's job status where he or she is currently employed.
Board member Steve Gibbs, on the other hand, said the board should allow Blank to make the decision and hold her accountable for an unsuccessful hire.
Gibbs, who favors retaining Blank, told the Free Press that he believes a 5 percent raise for the manager would be more likely.
"The last thing I want to see is Margaret go somewhere else," Gibbs said.
In a list of her achievements, Blank cited the $11 million sewage treatment agreement with Islamorada, which will also generate approximately $350,000 a year for the district. Blank also took credit for establishing a customer service department and solving an odor issue at the treatment plan that sparked complaints from residents.
Blank's plans for the district this year include a continued fight for state grant money needed to offset the district's $81 million sewer construction debt. She also told the board she plans to create a uniform policy and procedures manual that covers personnel, finance and operations.
Blank's contract and compensation are expected to be ironed out at the board's Feb. 5 meeting.