Is this the time for a pay raise?

Council ponders $10,000 to $12,000 hike in salary of city manager Francis

January 11, 2006

The Hood River City Council is considering a pay raise of at least 15 percent for Bob Francis, its top staffer.

Some members of the elected body believe that Francis, as the city manager, should be paid more than two later hires.

“I think we need to consider the morale here. I think the person who is the boss should be making more than the people who work for him,” said Councilor Ann Frodel at Monday’s meeting.

However, other officials are questioning how the city can afford that added cost when it is struggling to overcome a $1.17 million budget deficit.

“To simply vote in a $10,000-$12,000 pay raise tonight in the situation the city is in right now would not be a prudent thing to do,” said Councilor Paul Cummings.

Mayor Linda Rouches informed the council that Francis, who is compensated $33.50 per hour, was on the low side of the pay scale compared to 22 other smaller Oregon cities. She said the lowest number she had come across was $33.03 per hour and the highest was $38.75.

At issue was the fact that Francis, who earns a $69,684 annual salary, is making less than Police Chief Bruce Ludwig at $70,000 and City Engineer Dave Bick at $82,000. When Ludwig was brought onboard last year he was given almost $10,000 more than his predecessors Kevin Lynch and Tony Dirks.

Bick was hired last year because Mark Lago, who was overseeing the city Public Works Department, did not have engineering certification. However, Lago was kept on the city payroll and given the role of project manager.

Cummings agreed that adjustments needed to be made to Francis’ pay. However, a city health care committee is looking at options to shave 15-20 percent off the cost of benefits in the 2006-07 budget. And all department heads had been asked to cut their operating budget by 10 percent in the current fiscal year. This year, non-union employees were held to a two percent cost of living increase, with no potential adjustments for performance or tenure.

Cummings suggested that a more in-depth look be taken at the issue for long-term economic stability. Councilors Martin Campos-Davis and Carrie Nelson agreed with Cummings that the city needed to set a salary range for the position that had identifiable milestones for pay increases. In addition, they wanted to ensure that the money would be available for the raise in the upcoming budget.

The city’s budget has been out of compliance with the Oregon Constitution since 1998, when the first deficit of $80,992 was recorded. In 2002 the state auditor granted the city leniency to create a deficit-reduction plan, which brought it down from $675,000 that year to $397,000 by the time that Francis arrived in 2004.

By June of 2004, the deficit had grown once again to $580,756 and one year later it stood at $1.17 million.

This fall, Francis informed the council that the deficit-reduction plan had failed when several expected revenue sources from grants failed to come through. He also blamed rising health care and retirement costs for public employees and budget overruns in the emergency service departments.

At the Jan. 9 meeting, Francis told the council that he would present a plan in February to whittle the deficit down once and for all. However, the city is unsure what requirements the state auditor may mandate to correct the ongoing problem once the 2005-06 report is forwarded to the higher office.

Francis’ annual performance evaluation was discussed in an open forum after he waived the right to privacy in an executive session.

“In general he’s gotten pretty high scores,” said Rouches at the start of the critique.

On a scale of one to five, she was the only one to give Francis no mark below a four. She praised him for putting in long hours to attend community meetings and attend to city business.

“I definitely think we’re getting our money’s worth from him,” said Rouches.

The overall average of Francis’ performance evaluation was slightly over three, with Nelson scoring him at two on five different criteria.

She sharply criticized Francis for “inappropriate” e-mailed replies to citizen inquiries. In addition, she alluded to e-mail correspondence between Francis and some councilors, while others were kept out of the communication loop.

“I feel like discussion should take place in a council forum and that is at a public meeting,” said Nelson. “I feel like ‘open book’ is a good thing.”

Rouches assured Nelson that, while the council had problems in the past with its private e-mail correspondence, she believed that situation had been remedied.

Cummings informed Francis that he needed to improve his working relationship with staffers. And do a better job of keeping the council from being “blindsided” about key issues happening within the community.

“I’d like to see it develop into a more harmonious operation if we can,” he said.

Campos-Davis gave Francis only one low score for not staying on top of the city budget problems.

“I’m not really an advocate of micromanagement but when we’re in the red it seems like that needs to be done,” he said. “I really want to feel like we have a good grip on where the budget is going.”

Councilor Laurent Picard, who was appointed late last fall, and Frodel gave Francis an overall good scoring.

“I have found him to be very approachable,” said Picard. “When I needed to know what was going on in the city I got the unvarnished truth.”

Councilor Paul Blackburn, who was not present, rated Francis’ performance as slightly higher than average.

Francis rebutted most of the negative comments made by individual council members.

“I think I’ve been very loyal and steadfastly supported the council in its decisions,” he said. “I think I’ve been a good ambassador for the city. There’s a trust in the community and people know there’s more of an open door at city hall than there has been in the past.”

The council decided to convene at 6 p.m. Jan. 17 in the city hall conference room to further discuss how to give Francis more money with the budget in the red.

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