Susan Miller the new Vernon Town Clerk. (Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)
Susan Miller the new Vernon Town Clerk. (Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)
Wednesday April 17, 2013

VERNON -- Susan Miller is Vernon's new town clerk, but -- after working more then a decade as an assistant -- she's not new to the town clerk's office.

That's why Miller believes her wages, which are set at the lowest level of Vernon's salary grid for a town clerk, should rise immediately based on her experience.

"It's not so much the money -- it's the principle of the thing," Miller said.

But after hearing Miller's pitch this week, Selectboard Chairwoman Patty O'Donnell said giving the clerk a raise would go against a precedent set by other administrative salaries in Vernon.

"I'm only going by past history and what has happened and how people have been paid in the past," O'Donnell said. "To me, it would be unfair ... we would be making an exception to the rules and regulations that were already set forth in this grid."

Miller defeated two other candidates to take over as clerk in March after Sandy Harris, who had held the job since 1990, decided to not seek another term.

After having spent 11 years as Harris' assistant, Miller has said she believes her knowledge of the office is an asset. But that experience did not affect her paycheck when the Selectboard set the clerk's wages after the election.

On the town's pay scale, Miller is at the lowest step: She makes $904.40 weekly, which translates into just more than $47,000 annually.

However, Miller says she should have started at the next step up -- $963.60 weekly, or more than $50,100.

"I've been here for 11 years of work ... I feel I should have started in the second quartile, the way the grid works," Miller told the Selectboard on Monday. "So I just wonder if one of you could explain to me how you figured that I should start on the bottom."

Selectboard member Chris Howe said she "did fight for the 10 years experience" Miller has logged in Vernon. Howe said she is in favor of Miller being bumped to the next salary step.

But O'Donnell said those who have been elevated to administrative positions in other Vernon offices have started at the bottom salary step in spite of their previous experience in those offices. Officials mentioned the police chief as one example.

"So there's actually a precedent that has been set," O'Donnell said.

Miller tried to buttress her argument by pointing out a sentence in the town's compensation policy -- adopted in 2010 -- that says the Selectboard can set a salary above the minimum when "the qualifications of the applicant are in excess of the requirements."

Miller believes she is eligible for a higher wage under that guideline, and she also argues that no other administrator has risen to his or her office since a new salary grid took effect around that time.

"There's nothing I can do other than just make people aware that (the compensation policy) is not being followed," Miller said.

O'Donnell maintains that there has been no new salary grid adopted and no recent, significant shift in how the town pays its managers.

"All that really happened was, the grid was updated. It was updated so that income levels were increased by the going rate around the state," O'Donnell said. "So that happened, but the whole philosophy of the grid really never changed."

Miller also pointed out that she spent significant time filling in as town clerk when Harris was absent. But O'Donnell said such duties are expected of assistants, and she said the assistant town clerk and town clerk are "really very different positions."

Based on discussions Monday, it does not appear that the Selectboard will be taking any action on Miller's salary.

"I guess it comes down to, it's up to the Selectboard to make the decision," O'Donnell said.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.