Council denies city manager his pay raise

January 21, 2006

The Hood River City Council has decided that it cannot afford to give Bob Francis, its top staffer, a 15 percent or higher pay increase.

However, the elected body plans to readdress the issue once they are armed with more financial facts.

The council convened at City Hall on Tuesday evening to determine if Francis should earn more than two later hires. Threaded through their discussion was concern about granting him a large raise when the city has a $1.17 million budget deficit.

Last year Francis was held by economic constraints to the same 2.5 percent cost of living adjustment given to other employees.

“I don’t think compensation is a fiscally sound decision because of the budget situation the city is in right now,” said Councilor Martin Campos-Davis.

“Giving him a big lump-sum right now could create a lot of ripples,” said Councilor Paul Cummings.

Conversely, Mayor Linda Rouches favored at least some immediate monetary gain for Francis because of his good annual evaluation. His overall performance earned a rating of slightly more than three on a scale of one to five. Campos-Davis, Cummings and Councilor Carrie Nelson questioned his fiscal responsibility because of the growing budget problems.

“I guess what I want to make clear is that Bob’s doing a good job and we don’t want to lose him,” said Councilor Ann Frodel, who also wanted to provide him with a pay raise in the near future.

The council decided to not take any action on Francis’ $69,684 annual salary at the present time. They wanted to hold off on any new financial commitment until they saw his working plan in February to overcome the shortfall.

He agreed at the Jan. 17 meeting that it was probably not the right time for the city to grant him a wage increase.

However, he reminded the council that he had inherited a budget that was already $397,000 in the red when he took the job in 2004. Francis also claimed not to have found any documentation of the plan that reportedly reduced the deficit from $657,000 in 2002.

“If you really look at it (financial records) you’ll see it’s like a shell game, it’s kind of like moving things around,” he said.

Each year the city budget is independently reviewed by Terry Smith of the local firm Arens and Associates. In addition, a copy of the budget is forwarded to Secretary of State Bill Bradbury’s office and to federal authorities who oversee the city’s low-interest loans.

“It’s unfortunate that Bob inherited the budget deficit because he’s climbing out of the hole that he didn’t get us into in the first place,” Frodel said.

However, Francis’ remark drew a sharp retort from Cummings, the former mayor. He said there had been no need for a large volume of paperwork in the budget reduction strategy. The plan, he said, had just been to lower operating costs as much as possible.

“The basic plan was very simple, over a three year period we were going to unfund at least $200,000 (in expenses) until we were in the black,” he said.

Cummings said that plan had somehow “taken a wrong turn” since the deficit had grown by more than $800,000 since 2004.

The council also decided to hold off on a raise for Francis until a new evaluation process was in place to review his job with “measurable” performance milestones. Rouches, Campos-Davis and Cummings offered to form a committee and tackle that task within the next three months.

“I really am an advocate of having clear expectations and measurable goals,” said Campos-Davis after laying out the framework to improve the process.

Although Francis had earned a fully satisfactory appraisal on his recent second anniversary evaluation, Campos-Davis and other officials believed the criteria used in that process was too vague. They also felt that the city manager’s performance should be looked at twice a year instead of just annually.

“It shouldn’t be a surprise at the end of the year what kind of a rating we’re going to come out with. That should be known,” said Campos-Davis.

He outlined how the criteria could be fine-tuned based on his experience from 11 years of active duty in the U.S. Air Force and as the current Washington State Employment Security Department supervisor for Klickitat County.

Campos-Davis felt that it was only fair for Francis to have a clear understanding of what the council expected from him and, if fiscally feasible, the opportunity to earn a bonus by meeting or exceeding those expectations.

A pivotal part of the Jan. 17 discussion was that two department heads hired last year by Francis drew a higher annual salary. Police Chief Bruce Ludwig is paid $70,000 and City Engineer Dave Bick $82,000 — a situation some council members felt was inequitable.

However, Councilors Paul Blackburn and Laurent Picard said it was not “atypical” of some employees to make more than a supervisor.

Picard felt the city needed to ensure that Francis earned as much as his peers in same-sized cities throughout the state. Blackburn was opposed to any changes in Francis’ salary structure because of the “terrible and worsening situation” the city finances were in.

“I could certainly make the argument that the most important thing the city manager can do is run in the black,” he said.

Nelson suggested that perhaps a raise for Francis could be done incrementally as the budget showed signs of improvement. Campos-Davis said all aspects of the top job needed to be scrutinized before any decision was made.

“I think this committee really has a lot of work to do. We’re going to disagree, we’re going to butt heads, but that’s just the process we have to go through,” he said.

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