The Palm Coast City Council on Tuesday quietly approved a $9,135 raise for City Manager Matt Morton on the heels of his second-year anniversary with the city and a performance evaluation that netted him strong and slightly better marks than last year despite a blistering set of numbers from Council Member Victor Barbosa.
Barbosa had called for Morton’s firing just weeks ago, shortly before turning in an evaluation that added up to an “improvement needed” characterization of Morton’s performance, making it a distant outlier from the four other evaluations, two of which gave Morton perfect scores. Despite Barbosa’s animosity toward the manager, he voted for the raise when it came up as part of the consent agenda on Tuesday, along with several other items. It’s not clear that Barbosa, who’s not known to study thick agenda books, realized that a raise to the man he wants fired was part of the consent items. (See: “Palm Coast City Manager Matt Morton’s Evaluations at Year 2: One Brutal, One Good, 3 Glowing or Stellar.”
It’s unusual that a chief executive’s raise would be included in the consent portion of the agenda, which is reserved for routine items. City and county executives have been known to place items they didn’t want discussed too publicly on the consent agenda (Morton’s predecessor and the previous county administrator were masters of the ploy), though any member of the council or the public may request that such an item be pulled from consent for a fuller discussion. No one did at Tuesday’s meeting.
The item was not discussed at the previous week’s workshop, either. The approved minutes of that meeting say that “Mr. Morton provided a brief overview of the item” at the workshop. Actually, he did not. Holland announced the agenda item, turned to Renina Fuller, the human resources director, who was “here to stand by to answer any questions” from council members. There were no questions. The council members never discussed the salary raise.
The raise amounts to 6 percent: 3 percent is a cost-of-living “adjustment” (inflation in the South region actually jumped 4.4 percent over the past year), and a 3 percent merit pay increase, bringing Morton’s base salary to $161,385, up from $145,000 when he started. He received a $7,000 raise in January. He had turned down that raise the previous June, citing a wage freeze and the pandemic. For comparison’s sake, County Manager Jerry Cameron’s current base salary is $166,000.
Yet the council itself never said a word about setting those percentages. It followed Fuller’s recommendation: “The Human Resources Director recommends that the City Manager be treated the same as all other employees with regard to the annual cost of living adjustment and performance-based merit increase.” But when the council approved Morton’s contract two years ago, it had specifically deleted the clause in his contract that went to that effect, and did so at then-Mayor Milissa Holland’s insistence.
The reason: the council approves raises for staff, but does not set those percentages. The city manager does. So by letting the city manager’s raises be set by whatever the staff gets, it would in effect be allowing the manager to set his own raises, even though the manager answers only to the council. Holland was specific about not “giving that type of leeway of determining pay increases” to the manager. (See: “Council Agrees to Contract With New Manager, But Not to Annual Raises Tied to Employees.”)
And yet that’s what the council, including Holland, acceded to on Tuesday, without discussion, leaving its vote to count as a ratification of the administration’s recommendation. For Holland, Tuesday’s vote on the consent agenda items turned out to be her last official vote as mayor. She resigned later that evening.
Morton’s total compensation now amounts to either $189,813 or $186,585, depending on whether he is taking the 2 percent match from the city in deferred compensation. The sum includes an annual car allowance of $4,800, a 13 percent contribution of $20,980 to his 401a retirement account, a $420 communication allowance, and the $3,228 in deferred compensation. It does not include the $27,600 health insurance premium the city pays annually (that was the total amount for 2020) nor, judging from recent council meetings, hazard pay. For all that, Morton’s pay and benefit package remains well below the $218,300 his predecessor was being paid 21 years ago (without health insurance premiums). In inflation-adjusted dollars, that package would be worth $269,041 today.