In 2009, as the city was starting to take on water fiscally, City Manager Bill Emlen decided to forgo a cost of living adjustment and a merit increase to take a $158,000 salary. That salary would remain in effect until 2011 when the city hired Steve Pinkerton at $188,000. Tonight, the city of Davis is set to hire its next city manager, Dirk Brazil, at $217,200.
That represents a 37.5 percent increase in just over three years. City leaders pointed out in July that the city of Davis was attempting to be more competitive with neighboring jurisdictions. However, as we pointed out in our Sunday Commentary, Davis is actually bucking the trend around the region which has seen compensation levels modestly drop over the last five years.
In addition, the city manager himself will be receiving a 30 percent one-year increase in his personal salary.
None of this was lost on one of the heads of a critical bargaining unit. They were quick to point out that the Vanguard has turned the 36 percent pay increase that firefighters got from 2005 to 2009 into a cause célèbre. That increase was smaller and over a longer time span than the increased salary of the city manager position.
That being said, the firefighters’ salary increase was far more destructive to the city than the city manager salary increase. The city manager is a single position and, while there will be a small budgetary impact, in the scheme of things that impact is small.
The firefighters’ 36 percent increase represented roughly a $3 million hit to the budget. The contract was agreed to in 2005, following the successful passage of the half-cent sales tax measure that perhaps not so coincidentally generated $3 million in revenue for the city. The city had passed that half-cent sales tax measure as a way to avoid having to take staffing cuts in fire, police and parks.
As it turns out, the tax measure went basically to the increased compensation for fire. Fire also received by far the largest salary increase of any bargaining unit, doubling the still sizable 18 percent increase for police. Other bargaining units at that time received 12 to 15 percent increases.
These details aside, the head of the bargaining unit is outraged at this salary increase for the city manager at a time when city employees were asked to take large concessions. As we noted in the story on Sunday, some DCEA (Davis City Employees Association) employees are taking as much as a 27 percent take-home pay cut in the contract that was imposed upon them.
Other bargaining units like DPOA (Davis Police Officers Association) took contracts and concessions by December of 2012. However, DCEA and fire held out and operated, in the case of fire, under the 2009 MOU and, in the case of DCEA, under the 2005 MOU until December 2013. The employees who did not cooperate with the city received higher pay and benefits for an extra year or more to reward them for not cooperating with the city.
Bottom line here, as we argued on Sunday, is that it is not clear what the city’s plans are with regard to the next round of MOUs. When we spoke to several councilmembers over the summer, it seemed that another round of concessions was in order.
The city had to close a $5 million structural deficit this year and did so with the first real revenue measure increase since 2005. However, the projected budget deficit was set to increase to $8 or $9 million by 2018. The sales tax was able to close the immediate deficit with the city finding another $1 million or so in cuts.
The structural deficit, of course, is a bit of a moving target anyway. Part of the question is what will count toward the deficit and what will not. The city is facing well over $100 million in road repairs, and it is facing millions in needed infrastructure for sidewalks, bikepaths, pools, greenbelts, parks and city buildings. Much of that has not been fully assessed.
It is fairly clear that the city will ask taxpayers to approve another tax measure – this one most likely a parcel tax that would require two-thirds approval. Polling in June suggested that anything more than $50 would take some heavy lifting to pass.
Readers have pointed out that much of the public remains unengaged on this issue. However, a contested parcel tax with opposition that can raise the issue of the city manager salary will make the situation dicier.
The next round of MOUs could be quite contentious if the city really is looking to gain another round of concessions – which many observers believe to be necessary.
The city does have the option of imposition, but from a political perspective that is a strategy fraught with peril. The city was finally able to impose on DCEA and fire in this last round of negotiations, but going to impasse with seven bargaining units would be problematic at best.
Clearly then, the city is gambling that hiring Dirk Brazil will allow them to move forward and achieve their goals.
Employee morale is clearly an issue that both Mayor Dan Wolk and Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis wish to tackle.
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 any time soon and by any means other than restoration of pay and benefits.
Hiring a new city manager at $217,200, a 30 percent personal raise and a 37 percent raise in the city manager salary since 2011, will make this prospect far more difficult.
—David M. Greenwald reporting