Earlier this week, we had a brief series on ideal qualities we would be looking for in a new city manager. One of the points we made is that the city manager will be asked to implement policies to improve employee morale. We have had a rough time in the last five or six years. The city has had to reduce its workforce, reduce pay, reduce hours, ask employees to do more while receiving less, and ask them to take concessions.
The community at times has been harsh and critical, and many have laid the blame for the city’s fiscal condition on the employees – ignoring the economy, the council policies, the community indifference, and the lack of sources of revenue.
We are asking our employees to do a lot – yes, they are well compensated, but from all reports, morale is at an all-time low across the board and there is no need for that.
In their six-month plan that was released three weeks after the council election, Mayor Dan Wolk and Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis wrote: “Employee Morale. Considering the difficult budget cuts and personnel decisions that have been made over the past few years, and the often-bumpy relationship between city employees and management, it will be important for the new City Council to build trust with the people who make our city what it is.
“To that end, we plan to have monthly meetings with employees to listen to their concerns, bring back the yearly employee recognition event and show (Dan and Lucas have even pledged to sing), and look at ways of reorganizing City Hall to make it a friendlier place to work – and for the public to visit.”
However, following the publication of that piece, I got a call from one of the city employee leaders and they were beyond skeptical to the point of incredulous about this. From their perspective, employees have taken a huge haircut between cuts to cafeteria cashouts and picking up more of their benefit costs, while pay has either been cut or stagnated over the past five or six years – employee morale is not going to improve anytime soon and by any means other than restoration of pay and benefits.
The feeling among some of these employees groups is that they have been asked to take a huge hit, while the public got hit with a very meager sales tax increase. If you spend $10,000 in the city of Davis on retail items, the sales tax increase amounts to $50. Employees have seen their wages just on cafeteria cash outs go down by $1000 per month in some cases.
And the voters have already balked at perhaps a $50 to $100 PER YEAR parcel tax. From their perspective, the pain has not been shared across the board.
The city manager compensation issue threatens to open those wounds even more as we look at a salary increase from $188,000 to a potential $247,000 – depending on whom the city hires.
Council was between a rock and a hard place on this. Their analysis was spot on, from our view. Davis was paying its city manager $188,000 – the lowest in the region. City manager in Davis is a difficult position, comparable probably to a city twice to three times Davis’ population.
And yet we have: Rocklin, population 59,672, pays its manager $206,999; Brentwood, population 54,741, pays its manager $259,779; Lincoln, population 45,206, pays its manager $231,029; Rancho Cordova, population 67,839, pays its manager $258,914; and Folsom, population 74,014, pays its manager $228,140.
$217,000 to $247,000 puts Davis right in that range.
It is really Catch-22, as the numbers speak for themselves, but there will be consequences and fall-out from it. Davis needs a good and strong city manager to help it through navigating tough policy decisions and, at this point, the even more difficult path implementing them.
At the same time, by increasing the city manager position’s compensation it puts upward pressure on all upper level management whose wages and compensation are often tied indirectly to the city manager. Then you have the rank and file who will be mindful of the pay increase during the next round of negotiations.
As I’ve said, Steve Pinkerton told me on more than one occasion that had he taken even a small amount more in compensation, he never would have been able to reach agreement with the employee bargaining groups.
I have also heard disturbing information potential about the firm the city contracted with in order to find a new city manager. I have heard that quality candidates, some of whom might have taken less than the city was initially offering, stayed away from the search because they did not want to deal with the firm.
It is a small industry for sure, but we have heard the search firm itself has acted as a gatekeeper and pushes its own stable of candidates on cities.
Nevertheless, the council found itself in a difficult quandary. The council is committed to finding a new city manager by the October deadline. Others are betting that the city finds ways to delay it because of how long the process is already taking.
Stay tuned to see how this shakes out. For me, despite all of this, I still support the idea of expanding the pay scale if for no other reason than it gives the city more options.
Hiring the right city manager is probably the most important decision this new council has to make. A wrong move could set the city back considerably.
However, if the city is serious about employee morale, I think it has to go well beyond the well-intentioned ideas laid out by Mayor Dan Wolk and Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis.
—David M. Greenwald reporting