Splits Limited to Details as Bunnell Sets Next Manager’s Pay Range and Qualifications
FlaglerLive | November 18, 2015
What disagreements Bunnell city commissioners had during a one-hour special session this evening on choosing their next manager were relatively minor as they stuck to civil and constructive discussions while avoiding more divisive issues.
The votes were not unanimous, but the commission agreed, by a 3-2 vote, to offer the position at a salary range of $65,000 to $80,000, with dissenters looking for a lower range. They agreed, by a 4-1 vote, to first open the application window to internal applicants. If none apply by next Wednesday (Nov. 26) they would then advertise the position more broadly. And they agreed by consensus to stick with the current job description—in the main, with minor changes.
One potentially controversial issue requirement was barely mentioned: the existing requirement that the candidate have at least a bachelor’s degree. That requirement will disqualify several applicants, among them internal applicants who otherwise would have tried for the position. And last week Mayor Catherine Robinson had clued in a former applicant without a degree, Judi Stetson—who’d been part of the city’s top administration two years ago—about the process, suggesting that Robinson was favoring Stetson again, as she had two years ago. But Robinson made no objection to the degree requirement.
Finally, commissioners also agreed to postpone any possibility of an interim manager until later this month, if that discussion becomes necessary.
The commission is seeking to replace Larry Williams, who surprised the commission two weeks ago by announcing he was no longer interested in the job, and would leave by the end of December. Williams was hired at $67,000, even though the position had been advertised at a higher salary. Williams insisted he was not interested in the money.
What to offer the next manager has so far been the most contentious issue. “You probably should go $60,000 to $75,000,” Williams said today.
“I don’t think $80,000 is out of the realm of possibility. If you want to drop it to 60, I don’t know what you’re going to find for 60,” the mayor said.
A proposal to set the range between $65,000 and $75,000 failed, with Elbert Tucker and Bill Baxley for, and the mayor, Bonita Robinson and John Rogers opposed. They wanted the range at $65,000 to $80,000.
“$80,000 is a little rich for a town of 2,700 people,” Trucker said.
“On the way out, we tried to negotiate with the last city manager, we offered him $80,000, he wouldn’t take it,” Rogers said, referring to Armando Martinez. It was a surprise reference, as Rogers had made efforts until now not to calibrate any decision of the commission based on the Martinez era. Martinez at the time had been making almost $110,000. When the city offered him $80,000, he said he would not accept anything lower than $97,500.
“We just got the budget under control,” Baxley said. “If we start paying 15, $20,000 more than what we’re paying out right now, we’re going to get back in the same boat we were in before.” He asked: “Can we afford $80,000 plus benefits? And based on what I’m familiar with in the budget, right now, we can’t.”
“We do want a quality person, and we’re going to have to pay for that,” Bonita Robinson said.
Hutch King, the former county commissioner and current Bunnell resident, advised against going too high with a salary range, saying: “It’s like buying cows you can always start low and move up but if you start high you can never move down.”
“You’re just setting yourself up to pay a higher wage, and you don’t know what you’re getting. It’s a crapshoot,” Tucker.
“It’s a crapshoot regardless,” the mayor said.
The commission approved the higher salary range with a 3-2 vote, with Rogers and the two Robinsons in the majority.