The council has clearly waded into perilous waters by increasing the salary component of the city manager’s total compensation, but it is not clear to me that they had much choice. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to read through the lines that if they are asking for the increase in the salary compensation level at this stage of the process, they otherwise were not going to get the city manager candidates they wanted.
Those who have posted and argued that there would be plenty of candidates at $188,000 need to stop it with those foolish arguments – if there were, then we wouldn’t be having this discussion, because the council would have a pool of solid applicants.
The data here speak for themselves. Davis is at the very bottom in the region in terms of salary. The consultants recommended a range of salaries that put Davis between the mean and the 75th percentile.
Clearly, Davis has smaller populations than some of the higher-end cities in the region in compensation – San Ramon, Citrus Heights, Vacaville, Fairfield, Roseville and Elk Grove are all larger to much larger than Davis.
However, factor in cost of living and what it costs for housing in Davis, factor in the political environment, the amount of work we ask a city manager to do, and Davis operates as though it were a much larger city.
There is also the fact that city manager is the most critical position in a city. Look at how the water project was managed prior to Steve Pinkerton’s arrival. Council rammed through on a 4-1 vote at the first meeting after Mr. Pinkerton arrived September 6, 2011, a project that not only was not publicly vetted but for which there was no rate study or real cost of service analysis backing.
Even if the voters had not risen up to revolt against those rates, they would have crumbled under their own weight. The post-Pinkerton water planning went nearly as poorly with Measure P passing and a confused process to reevaluate the rates.
But where Steve Pinkerton excelled was at saving the city money. The last round of MOUs saved the city about $5.7 million going forward. The savings derived from the cafeteria cash out alone would pay for a higher salary.
The city saved nearly half a million when it reduced fire staffing from 12 to 11, and saved at least the difference in the salary when it went to a shared management arrangement. None of those reforms would have been possible without Mr. Pinkerton’s laying out the process, studying how to save the money, and bringing together the stakeholders to get it done.
If the council is telling the public they could not bring in a strong city manager to lead the city at the previous level of compensation, then we need to listen.
We also need to remember that the $188,000 was established in 2011 – three years ago. It does not account for inflation. It does not account for the fact that the salary came on the heels of a depressed market.
However, at the same time let us not fool ourselves on this issue. It is fraught with peril. There is likely to be blowback from the public. Two comments jump out on the Enterprise site.
One said, “Hire a City Manager who already lives in Davis. I don’t want any more mercenaries like Pinkerton who are hired to do a particular job and then leave. The whole of Davis, not just the City Council, should impact him. NO MORE ANONYMOUS CITY MANAGERS!”
Another, “This amid the financial woes this city has found itself in? It comes as no surprise bankruptcy is imminent! Where is the fiscal responsibility?”
They would add, “$30k here and $30k there adds up very quickly. Throw in the proposal to hike minimum wage to $15/hr and watch businesses race to the exit. Bye bye sales tax revenue. Oh and then there are the exorbitant wages paid to our police and firefighters, who have pretty low-risk jobs when compared to other cities like Stockton, Oakland, San Francisco. My point is the City Council has a track record of financial mismanagement and a lack of accountability. Look at cities like West Sacramento, they are the future! Investing now in projects that will attract patrons and bring sales tax revenue to the city, managing finances properly and running at a budget surplus for more than the last decade, and implementing policies to welcome new businesses that create jobs, encourage consumer spending, etc. etc.”
But as we showed, a good city manager can overcome the small salary increase and be a net saver.
Rich Rifkin in the Enterprise argued, “There is no reason to believe that for an extra $30k, Davis will get a better city manager than we would if we paid, say, $30k less than Pinkerton made.”
There is actually reason to believe that, as the city has already waded into the candidate pool and they have determined that they cannot hire the people they want at $188,000.
Steve Pinkerton himself, however, did tell me on more than one occasion that if he had asked for more money back in 2011 that there would have been no way he could have settled with the bargaining units.
Times were different back then. On August 7, 2011, we wrote, “Pay Increase to City Manager Makes Delicate Situation More Difficult.”
I wrote at that time, “If all things were equal, my reaction would be to find the best guy you can find, and pay him or her what it takes to get here. The City Manager is the most powerful job in the city. And it is not even close.”
I would add, “The question is whether or not we could have paid less and gotten a comparable city manager. It is a critical question, because I really believe the raise that the city manager position got, and the raise Mr. Pinkerton himself got over his previous job will represent a problem.”
“In budget terms, $44,000 is not a tremendous amount. As others have brought up, a good city manager could ostensibly save the city millions, and $44,000 would be a drop in that bucket,” I wrote. “But we are not writing this number on a chalkboard and pushing numbers around the room, we are instead asking real people to take real pay cuts.”
So you ask, what has changed in the last three years? My perspective. Watching the difference between the predecessors of Steve Pinkerton and Mr. Pinkerton himself made me realize that the difference between a bad city manager, a decent city manager and a good city manager is more than just numbers.
It is about hiring someone who can come in and help lead the city. Mayor Dan Wolk and Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis published a piece where they talked about the need to prioritize employee morale.
That has clearly taken a hit – and under the interim city manager, the situation could implode on us if things go south.
Mayor Dan Wolk captured the tenuous line really well on Thursday. He noted that, “during a time of budget crunch and we are getting concessions from our existing employees,” he believes that employee perception of this will be critical.
However, in the end, he agreed with the consultant. “I will support this,” he stated. “Having a really good city manager can make a huge difference. It is clear from the data that we are significantly below… other cities.”
“To get good people, salary is a critical part of that,” he continued. “Even though we’re in a period of tighter budget, even though we’re in a period where we’re making concessions… I think that it’s important that we have a good city manager at the helm.”
He said he hoped that the city employees would understand that a greater salary would give the city someone who can be a good city manager and be very good on employee morale issues.
Clearly, the council will prioritize a city manager who can improve morale and that was perhaps, despite all of the great work of Steve Pinkerton, where he was lacking.
The bottom line is that the data speak for themselves. Davis has the lowest compensated city manager, among the lowest compensated police officers, and among the highest compensated firefighters, particularly if you factor in workload.
Clearly there will be blowback on here and there may be unintended consequences, but as we watch the city adrift it is very clear that we are missing the strong leadership of a city manager – that is the big difference from last year at this time to now.
The council in the Vanguard’s view did the right thing and now they have to stay strong in the wake of a potential wave of criticism.
—David M. Greenwald reporting