September 11, 2010 in Washington Voices

Council balks at manager pact

Mayor Towey told to negotiate more austere package
By The Spokesman-Review
 

The pay and benefits Spokane Valley Mayor Tom Towey wants to give new city manager Mike Jackson is below what former city manager Dave Mercier received, but the reductions weren’t enough for some City Council members Tuesday.

Towey presented the council with a draft contract that he and Jackson have been negotiating for weeks only to have the council pick it apart in 10 minutes and send back Towey to the negotiating table.

Councilwoman Brenda Grassel said she thought the base salary of $151,200 was too high. As acting city manager Jackson currently makes $144,000, which Grassel said was adequate. “There’s not been years of experience,” she said. “I think that’s an important consideration.”

The proposed contract also calls for the city to contribute 16 percent of Jackson’s salary to a 401A retirement plan and 8.33 percent of his salary to a 457 retirement plan. Those numbers are several percentage points less than what Mercier received, but Grassel said those amounts should be eliminated because they are “not required like Social Security replacement.”

The contract also calls for a performance review after six months which would result in a raise to $158,400 if the review is satisfactory. Grassel objected to both the review and the raise. “I think a six-month window is a little short,” she said.

Councilman Bill Gothmann said it is normal for a new employee to have an initial job review after six months, with annual reviews after that. He also pointed out that the proposed retirement accounts are normal as well. “I have never worked for a place where Social Security was the only retirement,” he said.

Councilman Dean Grafos said he agreed that there should be no review and no raise for at least a year. He proposed nudging down Jackson’s base salary. “What I’d like to see is the starting salary for Mr. Jackson at $150,000,” he said.

When Mercier was hired in 2003 he made $115,000 per year. He received a raise to $175,362 only days before he was asked to resign in January. Overall the contract Towey presented Tuesday is lower than Mercier’s in several areas. The monthly vehicle allowance has been reduced from $400 to $300. Jackson would be entitled to only six months severance pay rather than the year stipulated in Mercier’s contract. There is also a clause in Jackson’s proposed contract that would allow the council to fire Jackson by a majority vote at a public meeting.

Councilman Bob McCaslin said he didn’t approve of the contract presented Tuesday because he didn’t think the city should have to negotiate one. He favored simply presenting the annual salary and other terms at the time of hire with a “take-it-or-leave-it” message. “We didn’t do that,” he said. “I’ll probably vote no on whatever the council comes up with because I don’t like the system.”

McCaslin objected to a line in the proposed contract that stipulates that Jackson’s base salary cannot be reduced. Grassel also objected to the section, asking what would happen if the city found itself in a dire economic situation. “I think we should consider striking that language,” she said. “I think that sentence is problematic.”

In other business the council got its first look at several new code text amendments that would affect the Gateway Commercial Avenue and Gateway Commercial Center zones in the Sprague/Appleway Revitalization Plan. The amendments would change setback and street frontage requirements, allow more pole signs and allow office uses that are compatible with auto sales. The changes are the result of a public workshop where business owners suggested changes they would like to see made to SARP.

The Planning Commission recommended approval to all the text amendments except for one. It proposed changing the size limit for wall signs from 15 percent of the wall space to 25 percent. It also would allow the signs to be hung above the first floor. The Planning Commission approved the size increase but said the signs should not be allowed above the first floor.

“I don’t see why that’s a big deal,” said Grafos. “I don’t understand the reason for this regulation.”

Assistant planner Lori Barlow said the zone was designed to be pedestrian friendly and that’s why signs were required to be on the first floor. “They talked about maintaining the pedestrian character,” she said. “If it goes up too high, the pedestrians might not be able to visualize it.”

Gothmann questioned whether the city should even consider the change now or wait until the council reexamines the entire sign ordinance.

“The more we can let business run their business and not interfere, the better off we are,” Towey said. “Right now we don’t have foot traffic, we have car traffic.”

The council also considered Towey’s request to form an ad-hoc committee to make recommendations on what the city can do to encourage businesses along Sprague. “We will have options and have information we don’t have right now,” he said.

Gothmann and Councilman Gary Schimmels favored forming a committee, but the rest of the council was reluctant. Councilwoman Rose Dempsey was absent.

“I think we’re putting the cart before the horse,” Grafos said. “We don’t have the money to go out and look at all these broad, wonderful ideas.” He suggested taking a look at only a certain area like Auto Row and seeing what the city could do there. “Let’s target what we can actually accomplish. Let’s do something we can afford to do.”

Grassel said she wanted to give the new text amendments and the coming Comprehensive Plan amendments time to work. “I’d just like to wait a bit longer,” she said.

The high vacancy rates along Sprague Avenue have nothing to do with the city’s incorporation or zoning changes, Gothmann said. “The decline started in 2000,” he said. “The data is very clear on that.”

The problems started when the Spokane Valley Mall opened, Grafos said. “What we have to do is reverse that,” he said.


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