Nearly all Glendale employees had their wages frozen the last four years, but the city's human-resources director received a nearly $14,000 bonus last year, and a nearly 8.6 percent salary increase to $151,111 this July.
A month later, Alma Carmicle began telecommuting from her new home in Mississippi, working by phone and e-mail when she isn't on a return visit to Glendale.
Carmicle said she planned to retire in August, but City Manager Ed Beasley persuaded her to keep working through the end of this year to negotiate a labor agreement with police and firefighters. She retained the title of human-resources and risk-management executive director, but the city last month promoted another employee to acting director to take over some of her duties and gave him a raise.
The arrangement of working a few extra months likely will allow Carmicle, 52, to retire with a full pension from the Arizona State Retirement System, pension records show. The bonus and pay increase will lift her lifetime pension to an estimate of nearly $7,000 per month. Had she retired as planned, her pension would have been at least a few hundred dollars less per month, according to estimates using an ASRS benefits calculator.
The 21-year employee said she stayed with the city out of a commitment to Glendale, and increasing her pension had nothing to do with the unique work arrangement. "I did not ask to stay on. My family made a solid decision to leave. This is a loyalty issue."
Glendale Mayor Elaine Scruggs said she was surprised and questioned why city management would allow the arrangement and pay hikes. As mayor, Scruggs does not supervise staff or run Glendale on a day-to-day basis.
"Your information that Ms. Carmicle has been given a raise totaling 8.6 percent is even more shocking to me than finding out she is telecommuting from Mississippi," Scruggs said in an e-mail to The Arizona Republic. "My recollection is that during our budget workshops, the council (this year) was told that in addition to the employees being required to take mandatory furlough days, which, of course, reduces their income, there would be no pay increases."
City Manager Beasley said he approved this year's raise after a temporary $13,919 "specialty assignment allowance" in July 2010, when Carmicle conducted a citywide classification and reorganization study that set pay ranges, including hers, for Glendale employees.
He said it was common in Glendale and in the public sector to give employees such allowances, and Carmicle was one of several top city managers who received raises for new duties.
Beasley said he did not readily know the precise number of employees who received raises. The city's total payroll has dropped 17 percent over the past three years and is expected to remain steady this year.
Beasley said Carmicle's compensation increased because she took on more responsibilities, and he said she is invaluable in the biennial labor talks, which are expected to wrap up this month.
"It is a unique circumstance," said Beasley, who recently announced his own retirement in the coming year. "At the end of the day, we have to look at the best interest of city operations and what will help us to meet our goals and be efficient."
Other human-resources directors said they could not do their jobs remotely, and a government fiscal hawk wondered how a top manager could work effectively from outside the office.
Hikes boost pension pay
A key factor in determining ASRS pension payouts is a person's final three years of pay.
Glendale said Carmicle's base pay increased to $151,111 on July 1, the new fiscal year, from $139,185. In July 2010, records show Beasley approved the 10 percent special-assignment bonus.
The bonus combined with the base-wage hike will boost Carmicle's pension checks when she retires, which she expects to do this month or early next year.
According to The Republic's calculations using the ASRS benefits estimator, the bonus and pay raise would give her a projected annual pension of roughly $84,000, if she obtained the state retirement system's required 80 points -- a combination of age and years of service -- to receive a full pension.
Had Carmicle retired in August, she would have been just short of her 80 points, lowering her pension.
By working through the end of the year and by purchasing credits from her time in the military, Carmicle likely would qualify for a full pension by this month, ASRS records show.
Carmicle also has continued to receive a monthly car allowance of $300, a benefit paid to many top Glendale administrators, whether or not they use their personal vehicles for city business.
Carmicle said she was open about her retirement plans. Property records show she sold her home in Glendale last year, after she and her husband began building their home in Mississippi in 2008.
Records show the couple earlier this year switched their voter registrations, becoming legal Mississippi residents.
Carmicle said she told Beasley this summer that she planned to retire by August. When he asked her to stay, they agreed she could remain until the end of the year through a combination of telecommuting and return visits for at least 80 hours per month, said Assistant City Manager Horatio Skeete, Carmicle's direct supervisor.
Carmicle and city officials said she has paid all travel expenses.
"I'm here in my office at home working until 9 or 10 o'clock at night. If money were an issue to me, I would have charged the city extra to commute back," she said.
Performing HR duties
Carmicle said she conducted the reorganization and compensation study, which earned her the bonus, rather than hiring an outside firm for thousands of dollars.
She also became the sole negotiator on the public-safety labor contracts.
Hiring a consultant to replace Carmicle during union talks may have cost additional time and money since an outside hire would be unfamiliar with past negotiations, Skeete said.
Carmicle said bringing in consultants for past union talks led to problems.
"We ended up spending a lot of money and needed to undo some of the work they had done," she said. "I was asked to stay on to finalize this agreement. There were concerns the unions would freak out, which they have, when they found out I was leaving."
Glendale Law Enforcement Association President Justin Harris would not comment during negotiations.v
Asked whether a human-resources director needed to deal face-to-face with employee issues, Skeete said, "Instinctively, I would say, yes." But he said officials are in daily contact with Carmicle when she is away.
Skeete said nothing has fallen by the wayside since Carmicle began telecommuting. Her absence has given the city the opportunity to train other employees in leadership roles, he said.
Those roles include managing two personnel boards and making presentations at council meetings.
The last time Carmicle attended meetings of the Public Safety Personnel Retirement Board and the Personnel Board, both of which she is assigned to serve as staff liaison and secretary, was more than a year ago. The boards make decisions on police and fire retirements and employee raises, discipline and firings.
Assistant Human Resources Director Jim Brown served in Carmicle's place for most of the meetings and during at least two recent council meetings, according to minutes.
The city last month promoted Brown to acting director and gave him a 5 percent raise to take his salary to $119,700, records show. Skeete said the reason was so he can make decisions when Carmicle is out of the office.
Mayor Scruggs said she was surprised to learn from The Republic that Carmicle had been allowed to telecommute from her home across the country.
"It is a rather astounding arrangement as far as I am concerned. Perhaps there is a sound reason for Ms. Carmicle being given the opportunity to work from another state and I look forward to hearing what that is," Scruggs said.
The mayor said telecommuting can work but in general is difficult to monitor and can lead to concerns of favoritism.
The head of a taxpayer watchdog group said he couldn't believe Glendale would allow a highly paid administrator to telecommute.
"It would be most interesting to know how someone in human resources could manage that operation from a distance," said Kevin McCarthy, president of the Arizona Tax Research Association.
"I don't know how you do that job from a living room in Mississippi."
Human-resources executives working for the city of Phoenix and state of Arizona declined to comment on the situation in Glendale.
But Mary Kyle, deputy personnel director for Phoenix, and Kathy Peckardt, human-resources director for the state Department of Administration, said they could not work effectively by telecommuting from another state.
"I run a huge division and there is no way I could do it remotely," Kyle said.