It’s Not in the Contract!

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Note: All names have been changed to respect confidentiality.

February 9, 2016

It had been many years since a professional services firm conducted a formal Classification and Compensation study for our city. During the last round of labor negotiations several years prior, the city had promised to conduct a study before the current labor agreements ended. About a year prior to the next round of discussions, we developed the action steps and calendar for a typical procurement process: develop Request for Proposal (RFP), advertise RFPs, conduct a pre-proposal conference, collect and evaluate responses, narrow the field to three top vendors, interview, select, and award.

Although we were not required under labor law to “meet and confer” with the bargaining groups, management decided to convene a meeting with the labor associations and notify them we were going to initiate a classification and compensation study. Thus began the nightmare procurement!

As the Director of Administrative Services for a small city, my human and financial resources were rather limited. The human resources department was staffed by an administrator who was buried in workers compensation claims. Deep into the recession, there were a number of unfilled administrative support positions. This study, and all the steps to procure and complete the study, added to my already over-filled platter of “things-to-do!”

Writing the RFP was one of my least favorite tasks. First, I scoured the web for links to other city examples, next I emailed my peers; finally I looked at vendor methodologies for examples, and then, in exasperation, I pieced everything together into a semblance of a formal RFP.

Next, I determined who to send the RFP to. I looked at the back of the last municipal league magazine for the list of government vendors selling their services. I tried every crazy google query imaginable. I asked other public administrators.

Finally, after many more steps, it was the day for the kickoff meeting with the selected firm. I was looking forward to bonding with the firm’s principal who was to be the point-of-contact, when her partner entered announcing he was ready to start the engagement!  “Where’s Kathy?” I asked? “Oh,” he replied, “she was called out for an out-of-state assignment and we didn’t think you would mind if I was the firm’s principal, after all I am the COO of the firm.” Inwardly I groaned, because I specifically picked this firm based on the personal fit of the principal with my project team. Also, I resented what seemed to be a bait-and-switch.

The selection of comparable cities went relatively well, until I tried to add another – “that’s not in the contract,” he said. “What’s not in the contract?” I replied. He pointed out that the comparable cities could not exceed a certain number. I sighed. But eventually, the vendor, the labor groups, and I we winnowed the list down to the required number.

Data collection started, and I began receiving emails and phone calls from several of my peers in the comparable cities. They both complained that the people in the firm requesting salary and compensation information were not friendly and asked for the study’s results. I agreed to share the study with them, and then called the firm principal. I asked him who in his staff was calling and confirming the data collection efforts. He replied that junior staff had been handling that effort – “It’s in the contract,” he reminded me. I sighed again.

The draft reports came in, and I grew convinced the data were not entirely accurate, especially because the first draft showed I personally was over-compensated! “Oh no!” I told the vendor, “let’s reconfirm certain positions.” “It’s not in the contract,” he pointed out. I sighed again.

At the end of the engagement, I had a draft classification and compensation study. I used the results in labor negotiations, and actually ended up with three year agreements that were fair to the employees, and to the city. We neither fully implemented the classification component nor the re-written job descriptions. The consultant was perplexed, “Why didn’t you implement the study?” he asked me “we put a lot of good professional effort into this engagement!”

I replied, “it wasn’t in the contract!”



Charlie Francis is a municipal finance expert. He has more than forty years of local government financial management experience in both the public and private sector, including twenty years of experience as a Chief Financial Officer. Most recently, he served as the Director of Administrative Services and Treasurer for the City of Sausalito where he earned the unofficial title of “OpenGov super user”.  He has also served as a finance manager for the Town of Colma, CA and as CFO and acting City Manager for the Cities of Indian Wells, CA and Tracy, CA.

Questions or comments? Email Charlie at .

Category: Government Finance

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