He’s no longer a free agent.
The Spokane Valley City Council OK’d a contract Tuesday for Mike Jackson, acting city manager, to take that job permanently. But it was close.
In a 4-3 vote, the council agreed to pay Jackson $154,000 per year with raises dependent upon annual performance reviews. That amount is less than what former City Manager David Mercier received, but it was not enough to make Council Members Dean Grafos, Brenda Grassel and Bob McCaslin vote in the affirmative.
“I could vote for $150,000,” Grafos said. “Not a penny more.”
Last month, the council authorized Mayor Tom Towey – Grassel and McCaslin voted no – to enter into a contract with Jackson to fill the vacant city manager post. Mercier had been asked to resign by the council on Jan. 5, the first official meeting of the “Positive Change” dominated group that had made Mercier’s pay, which had topped out at $175,000 per year, a campaign issue.
Jackson, who had been serving in the deputy city manager position, was then appointed to the city’s top leadership role.
Two weeks ago, Towey had presented the council a base pay for Jackson that was actually lower than the final approved amount -- $151,200 per year – but it included an evaluation in six months that would bump it up to $158,400 if the review was positive. After receiving criticism from the three council members who voted no, the new contract was adjusted to not have that provision -- but the base pay was increased.
If Towey – who also ran on the Positive Change ticket with Grafos, McCaslin and Grassel – was frustrated by his colleagues’ dissatisfaction with his work, he didn’t show it Tuesday.
“We’ve been working on this about three or four weeks,” he said. “It’s been very intense.”
McCaslin praised Jackson but indicated he was “in the minority” and would vote no. Grassel balked at the retirement package Jackson will receive, where the city contributes 16 percent of his salary to a 401A plan and 8.33 percent to a 457 plan. That, too, was less than what Mercier received.
“Twenty-four percent of his base – that’s excessive,” Grassel said, adding that she “represents taxpayers” and not city staff. “If you’re comfortable with that, it’s your prerogative.”
The contract also calls for six months’ pay if Jackson is terminated, unlike the 12 months under Mercier’s plan. Mercier made $115,000 per year when hired in 2003 and had the benefit of a deputy city manager. He also had a greater vehicle allowance ($400 to Jackson’s $300 per month).
The only public comment came from John Miller, a city resident who also believes the contract is too generous.
“Five weeks of vacation is too much,” he said. “He should start with three.”
Council Member Rose Dempsey said Jackson won’t ever be able to take a vacation because there is no deputy city manager to take over for him in his absence. Grassel countered Jackson can always designate another department head to do the job when he’s gone.
Towey attempted to fend off further criticism that Jackson would be making more than a comparable city manager or CEO for a private company by saying that he compared salary data provided by the Association of Washington Cities and Employment Securities. The $154,000 was the median, and it was also within the range of pay that the city advertised when looking to fill the vacant position.
“I didn’t use (Mercier’s) contract,” Towey said. “I recognized he was a different manager (whose contract was) negotiated before we got here.”
Towey added that there should also be some consideration for Jackson’s history with the city – he started in 2003 as the parks director – and his character.
“I like Mike. I like that he cares about this city. I put value on that,” Towey said. “I know that he’s also committed 110 percent for what this council wants to do. I put value on that.”
After the vote, Jackson was sworn in and shook the hands of the council members.