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Ott says ‘no’ to extension of housing allowance payments

Tuesday, December 16, 2008 by Austin Monitor

City Manager Marc Ott has turned down a continuation of the $4,500 per month payment he has been receiving to offset house payments he is making in both Austin and Fort Worth.


Mayor Pro Tem Brewster McCracken and Mayor Will Wynn were co-sponsoring a resolution on this week’s Council agenda that would have extended the temporary housing allowance Ott began receiving when he took over as city manager in February. However, McCracken said Monday that the item was withdrawn because Ott had declined the payment.


“Marc talked to me over the weekend and said he could not accept it… while he was asking the rest of the organization to make some tough cuts,” to the city budget, McCracken said.


Ott confirmed that statement. “With everything that’s happening in the economy I don’t think it’s a good time to do that,” he told In Fact Daily.


The Council negotiated with Ott to pay him $4,500 per month after taxes for temporary housing. Those payments were scheduled to end either nine months from his starting date of Feb. 18, 2008 or “immediately after purchase of a residence within the City of Austin and the sale of the City Manager’s homestead in Fort Worth, Texas,” whichever came first. Nine months have passed and Ott and his wife, Pam, have purchased a home in Southwest Austin but have not yet sold their house in Fort Worth. 


Council Member Lee Leffingwell said he was opposed to continuing the payments given the current economic climate and the prospect of budget cuts. “I think it’s going to be withdrawn—that’s what I’m hearing—but I’ve said publicly I couldn’t support the resolution.” Leffingwell said he was particularly troubled by the fact that the $4,500 was a net amount, meaning after taxes. He said he thought the arrangement was unprecedented within the City of Austin.


Leffingwell stressed that his decision is “absolutely nothing personal,” and that Ott has been doing a good job. “Given the situation that we’re in, asking other employees to make sacrifices…asking citizens to make sacrifices in decreased services…I don’t think it’s a very good time,” to give the manager more money, he said.


Council Member Laura Morrison said she had heard that the resolution would be pulled. However, she said, “I may have had some serious concerns about approving that. In this tight budget environment we’re in, any time I look at an unplanned expenditure, I always look at what are we not going to fund.” Told that Ott had declined the additional funds, Morrison said, “That’s admirable.”


AFSCME spokesman Jack Kirfman said he knew there were at least three members of the Council who would vote against the resolution if it appeared on Thursday’s agenda. Given the current budgetary problems and the fact that “everybody’s been asked to cut their budget by 2 percent,” the timing was especially bad. Add to that the news that employees expecting an additional raise because they have exceeded expectations would not get one. “It’s sort of a hard pill (to swallow) for employees if the city manager is going to turn around and get $4,500 a month.”

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