By John Schaffner

City of Atlanta department heads have doled out at least $332,811 in raises to 69 employees in recent weeks in what appears to be an effort to reward certain workers before the City Council resumes greater oversight of personnel matters, including the granting of raises.

Councilwoman Felicia Moore, who initiated the personnel legislation that the council passed 14-1 last month, received a copy of an e-mail in which the commissioner in charge of one department specifically sought to push through salary increases before the council retook control of raises.

The raises, which come at a time when hundreds of city jobs have been cut to head off a projected budget shortfall, range from $3,000 to $20,000 and represent an average raise of 9.5 percent. The largest raise of $20,000 increased a health service manager’s salary to about $64,300.

The largest number of raises went to employees in the departments of Watershed Management and Human Resources. The highest-paid city employee to get a pay increase was an assistant in the Watershed Management Department who got a boost from about $99,300 a year to just more than $104,000.

Moore said she will ask the council to override Mayor Shirley Franklin’s veto of the personnel oversight ordinance at the council’s next regular meeting Aug. 18, which follows the present council recess.

The council’s move to gain more oversight over city personnel decisions reversed actions last year that gave up some council authority to the executive branch.

“Considering it was 14-1 who voted for it, I think we should be fine (in overriding the veto) in light of the fact all these increases have been going on that we don’t have anything to do with and didn’t even know about them,” Moore said.

She said employees often slip information to council members. “Somebody gave me a copy of an e-mail a commissioner had sent out telling his people to look into their budgets. ‘If you are going to make any increases or adjustments, you need to do it now. The council is taking back over the authority to do this. It looks like a majority is going to pass it. The mayor’s going to veto it, but they will probably override it. Do what you want to do now before they get back involved in it.’ ”

Moore said the e-mail looked like it went out the day the council passed the ordinance.

She said the e-mail wasn’t even the biggest thing. “People started saying you have all these people who have been getting these increases. That is the other big part, all of these increases were taking place,” even as hundreds of city jobs were being eliminated.

Moore asked: “How do we have the money to give increases when we say we don’t have enough in the budget to pay people’s salaries?”

Franklin reportedly said she was not surprised by the news some city employees had received raises even as others were losing their jobs. She said most of the increases were tied to promotions or reclassifications.

Moore said she does not believe the list released by the Department of Human Resources “is inclusive of everything because I have been given some documents from people of other changes that have been made. … I just don’t see them on there.”

That list reportedly covered increases between June 1 and July 24.

“It is really interesting that the Department of Human Resources, which is our personnel department, has a lot” of the pay increases, Moore said.

In her letter vetoing the personnel ordinance, Franklin wrote: “There is no evidence that the current law has had a negative impact on the budget or city services. As such, the change proposed in this ordinance is unnecessary and reverses the many gains made towards best personnel practices.”

The mayor continued that the current law “streamlines personnel processing, provides a more flexible and responsive civil service system and allows the Department of Human Resources to act as a strategic partner with operating departments.”