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RICH MACKE: Concerns about the city manager and council

RICH MACKE: Concerns about the city manager and council

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Citizens of the Scottsbluff need to pay attention to the concerns that are being brought to the forefront between our Scottsbluff city manager and the Scottsbluff City Council.

The city council meeting which was held Monday, Oct. 4 should be concerning to all citizens, where discussions focused on possible council misconduct in regards to city policy, salary compensation for the city manager and out of line comments from speakers.

So let’s take a look…

The City of Scottsbluff is under a city manager form of government. Basically, the city council sets policy but hires a paid administrator to carry out its decisions and lead the city government. The city manager draws up the budget and supervises most departments within the city government system. The city manager also reports directly to the city council as a whole. Meaning the city council is one unit. The position of city manager is hired to implement city policy as they have the experience, where most city council members do not.

In the story published on Wednesday, Oct. 13, of the Star Herald titled “City manager nets 5% pay raise”, is just one of three concerns I have from Monday’s meeting. In the story it is noted that the city manager is to receive a 5% pay raise after 6 months on the job as he received a satisfactory evaluation by council. And then he is due another 5% raise at the end of the first year. Now, neither of these take into account the 2% cost of living increase approved by the council.

The city managers current base salary when hired 6 months ago was $150,000. That’s a pretty good living wage for the Nebraska Panhandle. But if he agreed to the increases in the job offer when accepting the position of city manager (and who wouldn’t), then he should receive it if he is doing a satisfactory. But adding a 12% increase after the first year on the job, which is $18,000, should be in question to the individuals that made the offer, don’t you think? I understand paying well to attract higher quality of leadership candidates, but holy cow…

As a comparative, Gering’s present City Administrator Pat Heath started at $102,000. Former Gering City Administrator Lane Danielzuk was at $118,289. Interim City Manager Rick Kuckkahn was making $120,000, and our most recent City Manager, Nathan Johnson, was at $118,000, when he left the position.

The average yearly compensation for a city manager across the nation is currently $93,373. The high end salary is $229,500 which is only 1% of city management jobs. Cities with higher population, but much lower city manager salaries, to name just a few, are San Jose, California, at $113,000; Oakland, California, at $112,000; Jackson Wyoming, at $109,000; Seattle Washington, at $108,000; I can go on and on…So trying to understand the $150,000 for Scottsbluff is difficult, not to mention adding $18,000 more.

But, like I said, if that is what was offered, and accepted, it’s not the city manager's fault they offered that kind of money. But let’s hope there is no discussion on hiring an assistant city manager as well…

Next, during the meeting, it was reported the wife of our current city manager made a fiery speech toward city council member Jordan Colwell at a previous meeting. Here, I have issues with both sides. One, although the wife of the city manager is a resident of the community and has the right to attend and speak to the city council as we all do, it doesn’t mean she should when it has to do with city business between her husband and his council.

When speaking publicly to council on concerns she has heard through discussions with her husband, a line has definitely been crossed. Of course, she was frustrated and trying to support her husband, but she is making accusations based on dinner table talk, which is unprofessional and completely out of line. This conversation should have been left to her husband to handle with his city council.

During the same fiery speech accusations toward city council members, she touched on speaking directly to city employees, which is not wrong. According to the Scottsbluff City attorney Kent Hadenfelt council members did not break any statutes in speaking with city employees. Council members can’t give orders to staff, but do have investigatory powers.

Though not wrong, council members conversations with staff should be kept to a minimum. When a council member begins to discuss work, policy and/or process, then they have gone beyond the responsibilities of their position. Doing so could potentially cause confusion for city employees on management structure, job oversight and ultimately reduce employee morale. Under the city manager form of government, city council members run their decisions as a unit through the city manager. Then the city manager implements process and handles the business thereof.

As a citizen of this community who pays their taxes, we all must understand that we basically fund the city. We elect individuals to sit on council to represent our interests. When the city defers to acting like a private entity, we have a problem.

Scottsbluff City Manager Dustin Rief nets 5% pay raise; Reviews give few indications of apparent divide
Scottsbluff city manager review takes unexpected turn when wife speaks

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