PDT Staff Writer
Last year, voters in Portsmouth chose to change the city’s form of government from the strong mayor form to a Council/City Manager form of government, which most likely will mean bringing in a person with a background in the professional field of city management.
While that creates a new dynamic for the city, some officials believe there are some issues that need to be addressed. One of those issues could be the stark difference in payroll, from what the city pays now for the operation of the mayor’s office compared to what the cost of operation of the city manager’s office, and one councilman has already voiced his opinion that he believes voters were not completely informed of those differences when they went to the polls.
Sixth Ward Portsmouth City Councilman Steve Sturgill even at one point tossed around the idea of asking for a re-vote on the issue of returning to the Council/City Manager form of government.
“We voted twice during 2011 on the income tax,” Sturgill said at a City Council meeting. “The first vote lost by two. The second one passed by 22 votes. Some of us, not only at this table, say that was a mandate for the income tax. I would disagree with that. The city manager vote won by a total of 64 votes. I would like to see us re-vote on that.”
Portsmouth Mayor David Malone has assembled the cost comparisons between what the salaries are for a city manager in a somewhat comparable-sized community to the salaries paid to him and his office staff. Malone said he contacted Tom Carroll, city manager of Loveland, OH, and explained to him why he wanted the figures, and he received them from Carroll, who at times has been a defacto advisor as the city goes through the changeover process.
Loveland has a population of 12,081, while Portsmouth’s population is 20,200. Portsmouth currently pays Malone a salary of $58,000, while Carroll is paid $112,000. His assistant city manager received $86,000, while Malone’s administrative assistant receives $22,000. The city pays it’s human resources director $20,000, while Loveland’s HR director receives $78,000. Carroll’s executive assistant is paid $60,000, while Malone’s mayor’s assistant is paid $28,000. The total salaries for operating Malone’s office is $224,000, while the cost of operating Carroll’s office is $336,000, a difference of $112,000.
One of the people who has fought the idea of having a re-vote on the issue is First Ward Councilman Kevin Johnson, who has supported the changeover long before it went on the ballot. Johnson said the city manager Portsmouth hires may not require a salary as high as Carroll’s.
“Tom has been there for a while,” Johnson said. “He didn’t start off at that. That’s what it is now. Let’s face it, I don’t think that we can attract someone who is currently a city manager. I do think we have sufficient remuneration that we can attract a strong assistant manager who has had a strong background, who has been taught by a senior staffer who is ready to move up in a small town.”
Johnson said one of the reasons he has pushed hard for the search process to begin is that it takes a while to narrow down the field of candidates, and that the city needs to make it clear to applicants that a fiscal caution exists within the city.
“Whoever we interview, they have to understand, this is our situation. We do have a deficit. We’re working on it real well, and I’m delighted with (City Auditor) Trent’s (Williams) latest figures that he’s provided that we’re better off than we thought we were,” Johnson said. “So that individual that we interview and that we hire is going to have to understand what our situation is.”
Can the city handle the increased cost should there be one?
“I think it’s something the city can handle,” Johnson said. “Quite honestly, a qualified city manager is going to more than earn whatever they get from us, and, in fact, more than pay for what we will pay them.”
One of the questions that has arisen with the issue of the city manager has been whether a city manager will need more of a community development department than currently exists in the City of Portsmouth.
“I think that’s something a city manager would look at, because I think we’re losing out on so many opportunities that we may not even be aware of. When I moved here, we had four people constantly working on grants,” Johnson said. “And right now, for all practical purposes, we’re down to a half person (part time employee). Even though she (Tracy Shearer) works full time, she doesn’t have the background. She has had to spend a lot of time learning. So yes, any qualified city manager, one of the things they always look at is a development department, and the staffing, and the quality of that staffing.”
The Council/City Manager form is to begin on Jan. 1, 2014.
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.