The New Orleans Civil Service Commission last week delayed a decision on whether to grant 25 percent raises to employees in the city's "311" complaint and information system office. It marked the second time the five-member commission postponed a decision on the request by Chief Information Officer Allen Square. Commissioners cited questions of fairness and legality raised by Civil Service staff members and other city departments in putting off their decision.

  Asked for comment, Ryan Berni, a spokesman for Mayor Mitch Landrieu, wrote in an email, "In an effort to improve our ability to attract and retain the highest performing call agents, the city aims to put salaries on par with other 311 call centers in the southern region,"

  Square says the "average midpoint salary" — the average of starting and maximum salaries — for his mid-level operators is $23,675, which he says is $6,317 below the average of seven other municipal governments, based on his analysis.

  Civil Service Department staff called Square's comparison misleading. They say he compared starting salaries for New Orleans employees to midpoint salaries elsewhere. A Civil Service analysis claims the city's actual averages are on par with — and in some cases well above — the averages of other municipalities.

  More than 100 applicants sought jobs at the 311 telephone center, but Square says none of them had experience at a call center, which he said is needed — even though the job listing called for either call center or customer service experience.

  Regarding fairness and legality, the staff cited a state constitutional requirement for a a uniform pay plan for Civil Service employees. They said if Square wants a 25 percent raise for his 311 staff — budgeted for 13 full-time employees this year — all similarly situated city employees must see a corresponding raise.

  "The average [city] employee has not seen a pay raise in four years," said Civil Service personnel administrator Shelly Stolp.

  That group would include police dispatchers, 911 operators, fire dispatchers and call center operators for the Sewerage and Water Board (S&WB) — more than 100 employees altogether, and a potential budget problem for the city. The SW&B administration sent a letter opposing Square's proposal, saying any raises should be granted "in a uniform, inclusive and comprehensive manner."

  "We will continue to work with the Civil Service Commission and staff to ensure that we make a fair comparison of salaries and finalize our recommendation," Berni wrote.

  Gilbert Buras, a contract attorney for the commission, is expected to weigh in on the constitutional issue at next month's meeting.