FARMINGTON — A five-month fight over the fairness of the city's recently adopted pay plan will resurface as official business in a City Council meeting next month.

Councilwoman Mary Fischer has steadfastly insisted that the plan —adopted on Aug. 14 — favors the city's highest-paid employees over others and that the process did not include employee input. Fischer made an open-records request to find details she says have not been part of the public discussion.

Farmington Mayor Tommy Roberts says the process was fair, transparent and open to employees. The Hay Group, a international management consulting firm, was contracted to create the plan.

"There are raises for the top (employees)," Fischer said. "I think the higher up fellows are looking out for themselves over the backs of the rank-and-file."

The Feb. 12 agenda item specifically will address the situation of 18 employees whose salaries are still capped under the new plan.

Fischer says that ignores other important issues.

The plan was never presented to city employees for consideration before adoption, Fischer said.

"It affects (employees') everyday lives," Fischer said. "They have no idea what's happening to them."

The overall lack of understanding about the plan is compounded because changes were made after it was adopted, she said.

"I don't really know what pay plan we adopted anymore because it's been tweaked so many times," Fischer said.

Changes were made during an appeals process built into the plan when it was adopted.

The city's human resources department received 20 appeals and raised pay grades on eight positions, according to city records.

"This has been a completely open, transparent process," said Mayor Tommy Roberts. "There have been no changes to the pay plan with the exception of the appeals process."

In addition to the appeals, work groups that included representatives from every city department were set up during the pay plan's planning phases, he said.

The work groups went into detailed discussions of the plan, including a point system that helps determine how much an employee is paid, Roberts said.

Employees were involved in the decision-making process, to a degree, he said.

"It would have been inappropriate for employees to be involved in determining what the pay scale is," Roberts said. "That's where we rely on the experts."

But certain changes in the pay scale should be raising red flags, Fischer said.

Under the adopted plan, City Manager Rob Mayes, Public Works Director Jeff Smaka, Police Chief Kyle Westall, City Attorney Jay Burnham, Community Development Director Mary Holton and other top city staff saw their pay ranges increase.

While Fischer sees corruption, Mayes argues that the plan is fair and that it is a much needed update to the city's previous system.

It had been about 14 years since the last independent assessment of the city's pay plan, Mayes said.

Pay ranges for the city's lowest-paid employees increased by 40 percent in the new plan, according to an Aug. 17 email sent to city employees that Mayes provided to the Daily Times.

In addition, 221 of the city's employees were at the top of their pay ranges under the old plan. The Hay Group plan increased the pay range for 342 employees.

But a number of disputes on how the plan was vetted and implemented have erupted since its adoption.

And Fischer said there is evidence of a lack of transparency.

According to records obtained by The Daily Times, a city employee's request to inspect public records was denied.

"The (requestor) was told that the appeals were not available because they were not kept by the City, but were transferred to ... the Hay Group and copies were not kept in City files," wrote City Attorney Jay Burnham in a memo to Roberts on Dec. 26.

The city, however, was required to keep those records, according to the memo.

"A document may constitute a public record' subject to disclosure ... even if the public body,' in this case the City, no longer maintains possession of it," he wrote.

A recent court of appeals ruling makes any record held by a third party on behalf of a public body a public record, and subject to records requests, Burnham wrote. 

The fact that the city allegedly turned over hard copies of the records to the Hay Group but did not retain any copies suggests incompetence at best and corruption at worst, Fischer said.

Although city council will revisit what to do about the 18 capped employees at the February meeting, she says that all pay plan issues should have been dealt with before its adoption.

"There was no rush to this," she said. "Was it a smart move to give raises in times of economic uncertainty? I hate to break it to everyone, but the economy here is in the tank. Our other pay plan, as flawed as it was, got us through."