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A decision by the board to give a raise to Economic Development Director Bobby Popowicz and bonuses to him six others has left some scratching their heads.

Didn’t five directors just get fired in March for the same reason?

Well yes – and no.

County Administrator Steve Nichols said his decision to ask the Board of Supervisors June 6 to reward Popowicz and employees in the five departments that lost a director due to the March 6 firings made perfect sense.

Employees in human resources, finance, parks and recreation, administration and public works took on extra duties in the wake of the firings and they were rewarded with one-time bonuses from money saved from two sources: the salaries already budgeted but not paid out to the fired five directors and money saved by hiring new directors at lower salaries, Nichols said.

When Planning Director and Interim County Administrator Darren Coffey, Finance Director Renee Hoover, Human Resources Director Brandi Amos, Public Works Director John Robins and Parks and Recreation Director Dwight Godwin were let go, the board said it was because -after Coffey took over administrator duties more than 40 employees received permanent “salary adjustments” without the board’s knowledge or permission.

During fiscal year 2013 budget negotiations, the new salaries were presented to the budget committee as nothing new. So as Supervisors Joe Chesser (Rivanna) and Bob Ullenbruch (Palmyra) began looking at the budget, they saw those salaries as something to possibly build on or add to since county employees had not had a raise in several years. That is until an anonymous employee, who like others who received a raise was told to keep it quiet, got an attack of conscience and spilled the beans to the board.

No such subterfuge existed with the current decision.

First Popowicz.

It was his luck to start the job as economic development director the week the five were fired.

Popowicz, who has a background in public works, plunged in to help, Nichols said. His thorough records research uncovered several warning letters that apparently had not been acted on by Robins from the Department of Environmental Quality about not having up-to-date permits for the Omohundro and Morris Well Plants. Not having the permits in order could have cost the county thousands in fines.

One month after starting his job, Popowicz reported the DEQ violations to the board as well as other things he did which included having the Parks and Recreation Department make a master list of all events so there would be coordination between that department and public works and assessing management guidelines and creating standard operating procedures for the Public Works and Facilities department.

At the June 6 meeting, Popowicz reported on his study of economic development strategies for Fluvanna which included entertainment events, heritage and agricultural tourism. He recommended focusing on entertainment tourism because it would give “quick returns and allow Fluvanna to plan for the mid and long-term strategies.”

Because of Popowicz’s work, Nichols said he asked the board to change Popowicz’s job title and duties. The board voted 4 to 1 to make Popowicz the director of community planning and development. He is now responsible for planning and zoning, building inspections, grants and economic development functions, Nichols said.

In a letter to staff dated June 7, Nichols said, “The changes help decrease the number of staff reporting directly to the county administrator (from 12 down to eight), and aligns functions in groups that necessarily need to be working closely together.”

The Board gave Popowicz a $5,000 a year raise from $65,000 to $70,000 and a one-time, $2,500 bonus.

Others who received bonuses are:

  • Eric Dahl, finance and budget - $5,000
  • William Tugwell, planning - $2,000
  • William Ford, public works - $2,000
  • Mary Weaver, human resources - $1,750
  • Aaron Spitzer, parks and recreation - $1,750
  • Nicole Carter, human resources - $1,500

Board Chairman Shaun Kenney (Columbia) said he voted against Nichols’ motion because in the wake of budget cuts to schools he said he felt it “sent the wrong message.”

Supervisor Bob Ullenbruch said he voted for the measure because he thought their hard work should be rewarded.

“I thought those people deserved recognition for what they did over the past few months,” Ullenbruch said. “Those individuals stepped up and did three to four jobs they weren’t hired to do. What Bobby Popowicz did - between parks and recreation, facilities and public works - to keep them going? Now he has been given more responsibility.”

At least one group is puzzled by the bonuses. Elizabeth Franklin of the Fluvanna Taxpayers Association said, “We’ve seen recent teacher furloughs and layoffs, the uproar over unauthorized raises for county staff, and supervisors telling us all what a bare-bones budget year this is. Now we see supervisors dipping into scarce funds to grant raises to brand-new employees. I’m sure this has left a lot of taxpayers scratching their heads.”