Analysis: City Manager Salary Increase and Its Impact on Employee Morale, Labor Negotiations

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

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. SODA

    “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 employees are taking as much as a 27% take home pay cut in the contract that was imposed upon them.”


    Not to be suspicious but if the critics are correct that the new CM is the firefighters choice, then might this ‘outrage’ be a part of a ploy to undo some of the progress in that dept. ? and gain concessions?

    1. Tia Will


      might this ‘outrage’ be a part of a ploy to undo some of the progress in that dept. ? and gain concessions?

      Perhaps I am being naive ( or just still sleepy), but how would you see that playing out ?

  2. Tia Will

    From my time in management one thing I have come to appreciate is that salary and benefits are not the only drivers of morale in the work place. I have had some people under my supervision, all making essentially the same salary with very minor variation, some of whom are delighted to come to work every day and the rare individual who ” hates the job”. There are many factors involved in work place moral including competency or being in the “right job” for one’s abilities, having an appropriate work load, the feeling that your daily work is meaningful both to yourself and to those you serve, appreciation for your efforts from your supervisors and colleagues, being a good “fit” in your department, having an enjoyable physical working environment….

    I believe that it is these less tangible aspects of worker morale that Mayor Wolk and Mayor Pro Tem Davis may be able to address and I am very much in support of their making this effort.

    1. South of Davis

      Tia wrote:

      > I have had some people under my supervision, all making

      > essentially the same salary with very minor variation, some

      > of whom are delighted to come to work every day and the

      > rare individual who ” hates the job”. 

      So have I, but EVERY time it came out that one person was getting paid more for the same job and EVERY time one person got a big raise and others got nothing we had a lot more unhappy people (it looks like we might need an even bigger parcel tax to give every worker in the city a 30% raise).

  3. Sam

    And so it starts…”He got a 30% raise so I should get a 30% raise!”….

    Poor move by the council to increase the salary to start with, can’t wait to see the hole we are in when the City imposes contracts that it still can’t afford to pay for.

  4. Gunrocik

    Tia:  “Perhaps I am being naive ( or just still sleepy), but how would you see that playing out ?”

    It seems obvious to anyone who follows local politics that Boss Weist is playing the City Council like a fiddle right now.  How on earth does the Council take the moral high ground on labor contracts once they’ve awarded the City Manager a $50,000 increase over his current pay.  I wouldn’t doubt for a second that not only did he help handpick the City Manager, but I’m sure he played a behind the scenes role in getting the compensation package increased as well.  After all, this is the same union boss who “tricked” council members, council candidates, and potential future council candidates (Alan Fernandez) into attending a City Manager “go away party” last spring.

    The Council has hit the Daily Double on this one — with one fell swoop they are going to guarantee stalemates with all of their labor groups and provide the fodder for the NO on the City Tax measure campaign.  By the time the Wolk Council is done, they will likely have significantly increased employee compensation, deferred the road issue and killed any hope of a tax measure for the rest of the decade.  But that is okay, the Wolk for senate campaign will be able to boast that “Dan didn’t increase any taxes while Mayor.”

  5. hpierce

    OK… let’s check the math:

    Emlen earns 158,000, frozen until he leaves.  Two years after the 158k level is set, Pinkerton comes along and is offered and accepts a salary 19% higher.  Three years after that level is set, Brazil is offered and accepts a salary 15.5% higher than Pinkerton’s.  David’s statement is correct if it means that between the last day of Emlen’s tenure, and the first day of Brazil’s, the compensation went up 37.5%, but the implication is Brazil’s was that %-age higher than Pinkerton’s.  It is an inconvenient truth that St. Pinkerton required a 19% increase than was established TWO years earlier, while Brazil required one 15.5% higher than set for his predecessor THREE years earlier.  Looks tome like Pinkerton was more an opportunist than Emlen or Brazil.

    I’m sure the St. Pinkerton faithful will spin it otherwise, tho’.

    1. David Greenwald

      I think you’re playing with math a bit here. Pinkerton took a larger percentage increase mainly because he had a smaller base. The real dollar increase was about the same. But Pinkerton also took a full 8% hit on PERS which I believe was up from like 2% for Emlen.

      1. hpierce

        The spin begins.

        Yes David, the base was smaller, but it was you that framed the issue in %-ages, not me.  If you take out the 6% difference in PERS contribution (your #’s), St. Pinkerton’s was 13% higher than two years earlier (~ 6.5%/yr).  Brazil’s is ~ 15.5% higher (~5.3%/yr).

        Your “playing with the math”, using the last day of Emlen to the first day of Brazil (to determine the number of years to come up with a ‘rate’) is pretty obviously “spun”.

        “real dollars”?  Do you mean ‘inflation adjusted’? If so, Brazil’s is slightly LOWER than St. Pinkerton’s.

        1. hpierce

          David… two of your cites were from over 3 years ago.  You have come across as a Pinkerton “fan” since.  Be onest… had we hired someone who had taken a $35k reduction from their previous position, accepting a $217k  position here, would you have written this column?

  6. Tia Will

    In response to Gunrockic

    Wow !  And I thought I was the most skeptical voice in our community as witnessed by my participation in the Innovation forum and today’s post. I guess I need to go back to the drawing board to sharpen my cynicism skills.

    1. Gunrocik

      You are going to have to drink a lot stronger coffee to match my level of realism (or hpierce’s level of bitterness.) And I’ve watched this same scenario unfold in Davis in the past along with just about every other City I’ve lived in. And the unions here are pussycats compared to back east!

      1. hpierce

        “Bitterness”?  I think not.  “Realism”?  I stand by my numbers (actually, challenging David’s use of them), to try to keep things “real”, rather than trying to make them fit ANY agenda.  Had David spun them the OTHER way, I would have pointed that out.

        I am NOT saying that the currently proposed compensation is justified/affordable, although by David’s own words, he ‘accepted’ the inevitability of that in July. Mr Brazil will be looking at a lower retiree medical benefit than St. Pinkerton got, even as Pinkerton lowered it for new hires, as he protected/enhanced his own.  Another inconvenient truth, if you read the MOU’s.

        I do think the deifying of Pinkerton, and the demonization of Emlen & Navazio has been overdone by many on this blog.  None of them were saints, none were devils.  Perhaps, Gunroick, you should smell the coffee as well as imbibe it.


        1. Gunrocik

          I’m demonizing anyone, I am just pointing out the suicide mission the Council is embarking on.  However, I am not going to cry any crocodile tears for the incoming City Manager.  He still gets a pretty good retiree medical plan:  but not the budget busting one given to current employees and nowhere near as generous as what Public Safety gets.

          On the other hand, he just got a huge spike in his retirement pay.  Let’s say that he retires after 30 years in PERS — he will make about 75% of his final salary.  In current dollars, he would have retired at about $124,000 with his current County salary.  With his new salary, he retires at $163,000!  I’m thinking the extra $39,000 per year will more than make up for any reduction in his retiree medical!

          What do you think Frankly, is this highway robbery of what?

        2. South of Davis

          Gunrocik wrote:

          > is this highway robbery

          The BIG problem is that we keep “looking the other way” at the MASSIVE pension shortfall and at when the reality of exponential growth makes it clear that there is never going to be enough to pay the retired public union people what we promised (even if the pensions were FULLY funded)  we will need to not only break the promises and pay the retired union guys less but raise taxes even higher on the young families that have struggled to buy an older home in Davis…

        3. Gunrocik

          hpierce:  Let’s agree to not make this personal from this point on.  This is way too important as issue.  The bottom line is that this is going to destabilize an already sinking ship.  It is going to create a labor impasse, it could lead to increases in compensation that would guarantee no money leftover for any infrastructure improvements.  It could lead to another round of layoffs and service cuts in order to overpay our ambulance chasing fireman.  It could eventually  lead to massive cuts in retiree health benefits for existing retirees — a la Stockton, San Berdue and the other cities controlled by fire unions.  This could be the final nail in the coffin for Davis being a “have” instead of “have not” city.

          I don’t know about you, but I believe that our city fathers have a moral and legal responsibility to our residents, employees and employee retirees to do the right thing.  This “consent” item is absolutely NOT the right thing.  While it may not lead to Municipal Bankruptcy, there is no doubt our Council is on its way to “moral” bankruptcy!

        4. South of Davis

          Gunroick wrote:

          >  a la Stockton, San Berdue and the other cities controlled by fire unions. 

          It was the POLICE union that controlled Stockton and they were the ones that bought the home next to the Stockton city manager to intimidate him and his family until he finally quit.

          I bet the people on Redwood Lane hope the unions get what they want so they don’t buy a home on the street and make loud noise at odd hours and send thugs out to intimidate people like they did in Stockton.

        5. hpierce

          [reply to Gunroick’s 9:42 post]  Don’t think I made it “personal”… think it was you who called me ‘bitter’ and that I was not being “real”.  Asking you to smell coffee didn’t seem ‘personal’.  That being said, I usually only get ‘personal’ when I feel attacked… am no bully, but am not a wimp either.

          ” I believe that our city fathers have a moral and legal responsibility to our residents, employees and employee retirees to do the right thing.” (I left out the ‘I don’t know about you’ swipe you made).

          So do I, but doing the “right thing” is neither giving city employees a 30% increase, nor a 30% decrease in compensation, in my view.  The right thing is to ignore the strident voices, use common sense, and balance the resources and the needs of the community.  Think ‘bell curve’… too many times the CC is following/listening to the 2nd standard ‘deviants’, and ignoring the folks between the median and the first standard deviation.  Pick your topic, and it works.

          Remember, City employees are taxpayers, too.


      2. South of Davis

        Gunrocik wrote:

        > And the unions here are pussycats compared to back east!

        I just heard on the radio this morning that the highest pay (and highest cost of living) in America is now Washington DC.  It looks like it pays well to be a “public servant”…

        1. Gunrocik

          South of Davis, where there is smoke … and bankruptcy, there is fire.  To quote the following article:

          Stockton voters clearly, if not overwhelmingly, approved the ballot measure that shifts budget control from the Fire Department to City Hall and the elected officials who are directly accountable to the voters. That is as it should be.

          When this sun-drenched exurb east of Los Angeles filed for bankruptcy protection in August, the city attorney suggested fraudulent accounting was the root of the problem.
          The mayor blamed a dysfunctional city council and greedy police and fire unions. The unions blamed the mayor. Even now, there is little agreement on how the city got into this crisis or how it can extricate itself.



  7. Barack Palin

    I’ll tell you right now that I’m not voting for any new parcel taxes if I think one cent will end up going to higher pay for our local public union workers.  Taxpayers are expecting another round of cuts, especially after two unions refused contracts.  Don’t ask the citizens for more money unless the city is also getting more concessions from the unions.

    1. South of Davis

      Maybe we can have an add like the old  “feed the children” spot where you are told that your $1 donation will feed a child for a day and your $5 donation will buy books for a school and your $20 donation will provide clean water to a village…

      We can let people in Davis know that their $50 parcel tax will help city workers eat out more often, their $100 parcel tax will allow city workers to buy new cars and a generous $200 parcel tax will help city workers to afford new boats (or Jet Skis)…

      1. hpierce

        And Gunroick called me bitter… most City employees I know would be quite content with keeping up with, not enhancing, what they need to support their families, without significant sacrifices to their current situations.  Sounds pretty human to me.  Think there are those who have felt they got screwed by their employers, and want to make sure that public sector folks want them to hurt more than they have.  Also ‘human’.

        Obviously, there are those in the public sector who would try to manipulate things like the CM salary decision to ‘go for the gold’… not sure that the appropriate response is to cripple all employees to teach those few “a lesson”.

        Wait and see where the money from the school parcel tax goes… expect teachers in particular to claim 60-70% of the new revenues as “theirs”.  Also human.

  8. Barack Palin

    So David, tell me if I have this right.  You advocated for higher CM pay but now you feel you were tricked because other local cities actually have been lowering CM pay?  This is all of a sudden a surprise to you?  Are you now against raising the CM pay?  Do you think we got the CM you wanted for the extra pay that you said was needed?

    1. David Greenwald

      In the summer, there was a risk or seemed to be a risk that the city might not be able to get their top choices for a city manager. It was risky to increase the compensation at the time, but was willing to do it for the right candidate. There was risk of blow-back no matter who they hired and these issues are now currently percolating. I’ve never stated that I am against the salary, only analyzing the implications of it. At the end of the day, I felt that there needed to be some discussion of this publicly before council makes the final decision.

      1. Barack Palin

        I don’t know David, you sure seem to be doing a lot of back peddling these days.  How is now complaining about the CM’s pay that you advocated for now considered to be rallying behind the new city manager?  Don’t get me wrong, I agree with you about the CM’s pay being too high in an environment where we need more union concessions but you seem to be going off in conflicting tangents lately.

        1. Davis Progressive

          my read is that there are few different things going on here.

          first, you have the issue of the salary increase which was dicey to begin with.  but maybe you can argue that we needed to increase the salary to get a great cm.  the problem is you got someone who has been living in davis, working at the county, and you have to give him a $50K raise?

          second, despite what people are saying, the firefighters are major players in this turmoil.  they are trying to use this situation to regain footing and also kill the shared management agreement.  obviously this summer that issue did not seem to be in play.  i think we have to blame rochelle for this one.  i don’t know but she seemed to open the door.

          third, you might have been able to live with the higher salary for a good, outside hire, but given that this was basically a political hire from inside the community, it opens the door to the labor strife and will cause the city huge headaches moving forward.

          by the way, dirk brazil himself may be more a pawn than an operator in this game.  he may actually end up being a lot better than some of us fear.  i’ve heard from a number of people i trust that dirk is not going to be the pawn they think he is.

      2. hpierce

        The “decision” was made when the CC acted last week.  The only “decision” now is whether to “recant”, and say ‘October fools!’  If they go there, Mr Brazil will do just fine staying with Yolo County as the CC starts over on their search.  Maybe they’ll find someone extremely talented who will accept a compensation package 10-15% (or more) below Emlen’s, to match the ‘trend’ David cites.  Good luck with that.  But David could extol him (or her).

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