Wednesday, September 16, 2015 by Jo Clifton

Pay raises for Ott, other appointees likely this week

City Council is likely to vote this week to give 3 percent pay raises to City Manager Marc Ott and three other employees whom Council appoints directly.

For Mayor Steve Adler, it’s only fair. After Tuesday’s work session during which the items were discussed, Adler told the Austin Monitor, “They will be treated the same way all other employees will be treated. We just gave an across-the-board 3 percent pay raise” to all other civilian employees. “We did that without regard to performance or merit,” he added. “We gave it as a measure of our cost-of-living increase. I can’t think of any reason why these city employees should be treated differently from other city employees.”

That’s not how Council Member Don Zimmerman sees things. At Tuesday’s work session, he said, “Let’s go ahead and go through (evaluations) before we approve this 3 percent pay increase.”

Under previous Councils, the city manager and other employees directly reporting to Council – City Clerk Jannette Goodall, City Auditor Corrie Stokes and Acting Municipal Court Clerk Yolanda McKnight – were evaluated in June or early August, and their pay raises were included in the city budget. That did not happen this year, but on Friday, Assistant City Manager Mark Washington raised the issue with the mayor, who then put it on the Council agenda.

Adler said Tuesday, “It’s been suggested to us as a best practice we shouldn’t be doing the performance evaluations at the same time we do the budget conversations.” Instead, said Adler, “the direction we’re heading” is to conduct those evaluations in February.

But Zimmerman said, “This is a good time to talk about evaluations and how the Council wants to handle evaluation of the city manager, and I’d like to see this connected to performance evaluation of the city manager.” Zimmerman has made it clear throughout his eight-month tenure on Council that he does not approve of how Ott is handling his job. But he was the only one arguing on Tuesday for holding off on the pay raise until an evaluation could be done.

Council Members Greg Casar, Leslie Pool and Ann Kitchen are co-sponsoring the resolutions to increase pay for the four appointees by 3 percent. Being a co-sponsor does not necessarily mean that the Council member will vote for the item, but none of them indicated otherwise on Tuesday.

Also, Council Member Ora Houston said, “I don’t know why we would not go ahead and extend that 3 percent to them” with valuations coming later.

Ott’s salary is currently $279,198. Last year he received a 3.5 percent raise, but members of that Council voted to include a letter from Council Member Bill Spelman outlining not only what they considered to be Ott’s strong points but also some areas they thought needed improvement.

If Ott gets the 3 percent raise, his salary will jump to about $287,574. That amount is considerably less than what is earned by his counterparts in Dallas, San Antonio, Fort Worth and El Paso. (Houston does not have a city manager because it has what is known as a “strong mayor” form of government.)

The salary for city managers of both Dallas and San Antonio is $400,000, according to public information responses from those cities. The city manager in Fort Worth received an annual salary of $315,000 for the year he was hired, 2014.

Last month, the city council of El Paso voted to raise the salary of City Manager Tommy Gonzalez by $61,000 “and to enhance some of his other benefits,” according to the El Paso Times. That makes his base salary $300,000 a year, effective this month.

Whether it is fair for Ott to make so much less is the sort of question likely to come up when he is evaluated in February.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Auditor Corrie Stokes: Stokes was appointed City Auditor in 2015.

city budget: The city’s plan for expenditures based on income.

City Manager Marc Ott: Ott was hired by Council members in 2008 and served in that position until his 2016 departure.

Office of the Austin City Clerk: This city department provides access to city documents, ensuring compliance with records-retention laws, and facilitating City Council's legislative process.

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