Guest opinion by Martha Bennett: The recent story about the draft Classification and Compensation study released by the City of Ashland missed the big picture.

The recent story about the draft Classification and Compensation study released by the City of Ashland missed the big picture. The Ashland City Council adopted a goal in July 2007 to develop a plan to recruit and keep good quality employees. Council members asked to look at succession planning, employee training and recruitment and retention. The recent study is one part of looking at recruitment and retention.

The council adopted that goal in 2007 because the city faced a high level of employee turnover. At that time — before the recession really hit — the city expected to lose 20 percent of our workforce in less than five years due to retirements. In addition, some positions were difficult to fill. For some positions the city was able to fill the vacancy yet the employee left after a short period of time. In one position, we had four different people fill the job in only five years.

Turnover is expensive. It costs money to hire people. For some positions, the cost might be modest, but for some jobs, it's very expensive to recruit. Additionally, while a job is vacant, the work often doesn't get done. Last but no means least, when an experienced employee leaves, we usually lose institutional knowledge, and we always lose people who understand the political context.

A Class and Compensation study looks at how jobs are valued within a labor market. The draft study completed for the City of Ashland shows that some city employees are underpaid and other employees are overpaid in our labor market.

The goal of the city's salary plan is to pay as much as needed — and no more — to keep good employees. The citizens of Ashland depend on the city to supply services not provided by the private sector, and many of those services require specialized technical skills.

In implementing the study, the current recession poses a challenge and an opportunity. On the one hand, the city must be aware that Ashland residents are hurting economically. Several council members have already said that they don't want to use layoffs or tax increases to pay for salaries.

On the other hand, the recession gives us some time to gradually phase in the study — likely over a three- to five-year period. People who are paid "too much" in the labor market will have their salaries frozen, and people who are paid "too little" can have small salary adjustments as the city can afford it.

City staff is working on different options for the City Council to consider at its meeting on April 6, 2010. In the meantime, anyone who wants to learn more can find much more about the Council Goal and the Classification and Compensation Study can visit www.ashland.or.us/Page.asp?NavID=12697.

Martha Bennett is Ashland's city administrator.