MERIDEN — City Clerk Denise Grandy is asking the City Council for $18,964 to turn a part-time clerk position into a full-time position.
Grandy said the additional staffing will help her office handle increased online requests and inquiries it has received since setting up an email address in early 2019. The office has also seen more work since allowing residents to make credit card payments over the phone starting in July 2018, she said.
The employee currently in the part-time position has effectively been working full-time since June, Grandy said, to help the office with processing absentee ballots for the August primary and other work. Because the position is only budgeted as part-time, Grandy has had to draw from her overtime account, which she said is now “overdrawn.” Because the position is part-time, Grandy added, it has a higher turnover rate, which requires more time hiring and training new candidates.
Grandy’s request went before the City Council's Personnel Committee at a meeting earlier this month, and the committee ultimately tabled it because Grandy was not present at the meeting to address some of the committee’s questions. Chief among those was a point raised by Democratic Councilor Sonya Jelks that the employee in this clerk position should be bilingual to assist Meriden’s Spanish-speaking residents. The City Clerk’s Office currently does not have any Spanish-speaking employees, according to Grandy.
“We really would like to see that position be posted bilingual-preferred,” Jelks said.
Jelks’ comments led to a discussion among councilors about whether they’d like to see Spanish fluency included as a preference or requirement for the position. But because the position is currently filled, Grandy said this week that the discussion is moot until it next becomes open.
“I’m not asking for a new position, I’m asking for her position to be upgraded,’ Grandy said.
Grandy said she is fine with listing Spanish fluency as a preference, but thinks making it mandatory could be illegal or seen as reverse discrimination.
The lack of Spanish-speaking employees in the City Clerk’s Office, and city government in general, has been a topic of discussion and a concern in recent years. Grandy said she has tried in recent years to hire bilingual employees, but was unable to either because they didn’t pass a background check or pre-employment test.
During the hiring process last year for the aforementioned part-time clerk position, Grandy said 8 of the 12 applicants were bilingual, however, none of them passed a pre-employment test administered for the clerk position.
“The councilors have no control over the personnel department and union’s position. They can’t just say, ‘I want this and I want that.’ If no one’s going to pass the test, you can’t give (the job) to them,” Grandy said.
The council’s Personnel Committee is expected to revisit the resolution at an upcoming meeting. If passed, the item would then require review from the council’s Finance Committee, because Grandy is asking for additional funding.
Grandy has requested funding of $18,964 to cover the additional salary costs for the remaining 10 months of the fiscal year. The part-time position is a union position, but does not receive benefits. If it is made full-time, benefits would be added. Grandy said the $19,000 request doesn’t include funding for benefits.
City councilors also said they wanted more time to make sure this request for a permanent staffing increase wasn’t based solely on increased demands brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Grandy said the request has nothing to do with the pandemic, as the office’s increase in workload predates the pandemic.
Grandy, a Republican who is elected every four years, noted that when she started in the clerk’s office in 2007, the office had four clerks and two assistants, which is now down to three assistants, one full-time clerk, and one part-time clerk.
“I’ve only got four-and-a-half out there when (former longtime city clerk Irene Masse) had six. I’m still down a person and a half, and nothing’s changed. The workload is still the same,” Grandy said.
Grandy worries about how her office will handle the massive increase in absentee ballots cast in the 2020 presidential election as a result of the pandemic.
In a typical presidential election, Grandy said her office will process about 1,800 absentee ballots. This year, Grandy ordered 24,000 absentee ballots, roughly 80 percent of the city’s 29,000 active voters, and she’s not even sure if that will be enough.
“I don’t even know if we’re going to be able to do an election,” Grandy said. “... I don’t know if we’ll be able to pull it off or not, I really don’t know. It’s a tremendous amount of work. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Grandy said Friday that her office is in good shape for now as it continues to process thousands of absentee ballot applications, but she worries what will happen when the office starts sending absentee ballots out on Oct. 2.
“Then we’re going to have ballots and applications still coming in, and applications that come in after Oct. 2, we only have 48 hours to send out the ballot by statute,” she explained. “That’s why we’re working so much now to keep up on it so that come next week we have as many out of here as we can get.”
Grandy doesn’t believe making the part-time clerk position full time will necessarily help with the election workload, because the employee in that position has already been working full time in recent months anyway.
Grandy said she recently learned the city will receive a $51,000 grant through the Center for Tech and Civic Life to cover some of the additional expenses of this year’s election.
“That money has to be used for processing absentee ballots — to pay temporary help, for postage, the overtime for my staff,” Grandy said.
The city recently hired 5 temporary workers to help with processing absentee ballots. Employees from the city’s public library have also been regularly helping out as well, Grandy said.