RICHARD HYATT: Welcome missing from Jessie's return

August 29, 2013 

The welcome mat back home for Iris Jessie is a little lumpy.

She was an assistant city manager when she left in 1995, and she has quietly returned as deputy director of human resources at a salary that has raised eyebrows all over the Columbus Government Center.

Skip Henderson never called her by name at Tuesday's Columbus Council meeting when he asked why a recent hire wasn't brought to council when the salary of the employee is near the top of the scale for that position.

"When we're talking about layoffs, this is something we should deal with at the council table," Henderson said Thursday.

Jessie was a rising star when Frank Martin was mayor and Michael Brown was city manager. She became Brown's assistant in 1990 after heading the Job Training Partnership Act for seven years.

She held that spot for five years, and when Brown returned to Savannah she was interim city manager for seven months until a train wreck named Paul Steinbrenner roared in from Wichita, Kan.

Some observers thought Jessie should have been considered for the position, but there was open confusion about whether she wanted the job. Within a year, she resigned to become an assistant city manager in Norfolk, Va.

By 2004, she was back in Georgia as city manager of the Atlanta suburb Riverdale, emerging from a field of 63 applicants. She signed a three-year contract at an annual salary of $90,000.

When she announced her resignation in March after nine years, officials were upset.

"I think this is one of the greatest losses Riverdale has ever had," Mayor Evelyn Wynn-Dixon told the Clayton News-Daily.

The mayor said she left in good standing: "If this was God's will for her to move on, then I need to get the tears out and tell her I'm going to miss her."

Jessie, who was making $93,000 a year, was paid until May 16, giving her time to relax. She talked about going to DisneyWorld.

Instead, she came back

home. When Reather Hollowell was promoted after the retirement of Human Resources Director Tom Barron, the city advertised her former position. Hollowell had worked for the city since 1986.

Jessie returns with a reported salary of $77,000 -- the same as Hollowell's pay as deputy. She is near the top of the scale, which concerns some members of council.

When word spread about what she was making, others complained that Jessie would be making more than some directors and most deputies. In a government strapped for cash, this raised a red flag.

No one has questioned her talent and experience, just her pay grade. They're so wrapped up in dollars and cents that no one has stopped to welcome her home.

-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him on Twitter @hyattrichard.

Ledger-Enquirer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service