MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The Fraternal Order of Police representing members of the Morgantown Police Department has filed a lawsuit against the city requesting that a wage and compensation study be publicly released.
The complaint was filed in Monongalia County Circuit Court on Wednesday by the Monongalia-Preston Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 87. The lawsuit contends the city erred in its decision to deny a Freedom of Information Act request by Lodge 87 President Brandon Viola.
Viola’s FOIA request was filed on April 4 and asked for the study that City Manager Kim Haws referenced in the executive summary of the proposed FY23 budget. The study has been used as a basis for proposed changes to city personnel policy.
“Everyone has a right to know the basis of the government’s decision. The wage and compensation study, the FOP believes, is directly affecting public safety by affecting recruitment and retention within the department,” attorney Teresa Toriseva stated on WAJR’s “Talk of the Town.”
The executive summary stated:
“A Classification and Compensation study was completed by GovHR during FY22. Grades and steps were determined for each position type. Pay ranges were determined by GovHR for each grade and a rate of pay for steps within the range, which were based on market conditions at the time of the study. An employee’s rate of pay was adjusted accordingly if it was below the market amount or adjusted slightly to fit into a step if they were already within their range. Employee’s
rate of pay was not decreased if it fell above the market, but it will affect future pay increases as the market catches up with their current rate of pay. Adjustments from the study increased salaries by approximately $120,000 for FY23.”
Viola also asked for a list of hourly rates paid to city employees during calendar year 2021. He received the list of hourly rates but an e-mail response from City Attorney Ryan Simonton stated that “there are no records responsive to the request for a compensation study, as the study is not complete yet.”
A second FOIA request filed by Viola on April 12 asked for any portions of the study that the city had received. That request was also denied on the grounds that the documents were exempt from public disclosure.
The lawsuit includes a memo sent to all city department heads on May 29, highlighting changes to the employee handbook and the completed compensation study.
Additionally, the West Virginia Secretary of State office’s database reports that the FOIA request Viola made on April 4 had been granted and completed on April 12.
The lawsuit is the latest dust-up between the city administration and first responders. Members of the Morgantown Fire Department have addressed city council multiple times in recent weeks, outlining their concerns with the proposed policy changes. Both the fire and police departments have been involved in lawsuits against the city in recent years.
Firefighters spent years battling the city over improper compensation for working holidays.
The FOP had filed a lawsuit over the creation of a Civilian Police Review Board. In December, Monongalia County Circuit Court Judge Susan Tucker ruled in favor of the FOP striking down the ordinance establishing the board.
The lawsuit is seeking a declaratory judgment for the study to be publicly released. It also seeks attorney fees, court costs and other relief.