By Mike Lednovich
One city commissioner wants the city to buy a house where all future city managers would reside, while the vice mayor was unhappy that new City Manager Ty Ross was starting at the top of the pay scale.
It was just a week ago that the Fernandina Beach City Commission voted 5-0 to name Ross the next city manager. Since then employment contract negotiations have ensued. Tuesday night, City Attorney Tammi Bach outlined Ross’ proposed contract.
Ross, who is making $175,000 as city manager of Loudon, Tennessee, wants a salary of $$225,000, the very top of the pay scale allocated by the city commission. By comparison, Dale Martin, the previous city manager fired earlier this year, was being paid $157,000. The suggested contract also calls for Ross to receive $22,500 in pension contributions and $7,500 in relocation expenses.
Vice Mayor David Sturges objected to Ross’ expectation of a $225,000 paycheck.
“Why are we at the top end of the $225,000 range?” Sturges asked the city attorney.”It’s very expensive to live here. I’m very understanding of that. But I’m not sure about the top of the range. I would feel more comfortable at $200,000 to $215,000 that’s more in the middle of the range. That’s my opinion and my thoughts on the subject.”
Sturges also did not like the proposed contract’s 60-day notice and 16 weeks severance provisions.
“I’m not by any sense of means wanting to devalue him (Ross). I’m very excited to get him started and give our city new management. I just want to, if I was doing this as a professional, those would be the things that I would counter with,” Sturges said.
The vice mayor’s position was soon short circuited by Commissioner Chip Ross and later by Mayor Bradley Bean.
Commissioner Ross said he had spoken with Ty Ross twice since his selection as the new city manager.
“He wants the top of the range and I think this might be a deal breaker,” Commissioner Ross said. “The city is at the top range because of housing costs here. You’re talking a lot of money to live here. I’m not willing to sit here and quibble over $10,000 or $15,000 for somebody who is well qualified for this position.”
Bach said the city manager contract is scheduled to be approved by the city commission on Oct. 3.
“We owe it to the community to negotiate something. If he (Ross) says that’s it, I’m stuck (at $225,000) that’s what I will bring back to you on Oct. 3,” Bach said.
Commissioner Darron Ayscue spoke and wanted to address the issue of the cost of housing.
“I think there’s a couple of ways that we can solve that issue. Maybe it’s something we don’t want to get into right now. The city could purchase a house and own it. And, that will be the house that the city manager lives in,” Ayscue said. “That’s a long term investment that never goes away. Of course you then have to come in and worry about maintenance and everything else.”
Ayscue then suggested a change in the City Charter that would allow the city manager to live outside of the city boundaries.
“We could ask the public to do a referendum if they have to have the city manager live within the city limits or is it something they would be willing to go out further.”
Ayscue said the issue of housing for the city manager will be ongoing, impacting the salary discussion with each subsequent hiring.
“I think there’s options with housing. I’m bring that up to say is there anything this commission wants to explore or do we just want to say ‘no’ we’re going to give you a price here’s what we’re looking, here’s what we’re looking here in terms of your salary and you would be on your own for paying for your house and living in the city,” Ayscue said. “It seems to be a constant issue that’s brought up with city managers: how are we going to house them?”
Ayscue said he didn’t have a problem with “a little back and forth” in the contract talks with Ross.
Mayor Bean called the amount of money in Ross’ contract “miniscule.”
“To make sure everything is smooth I would say I’m fine with the current (proposed) contract as it is,” Bean said. “If we are going to negotiate something, I would think the severance pay and just go back to the old contract on that. This guy is a top dollar city manager because he is a top dollar guy. I don’t think we should be nickel and diming him when he comes over here.”
Hearing the other commissioners’ viewpoints, Sturges backed off his stance over lowering the salary offer.
“I can live with the salary as it is if the majority of the commission. I personally wouldn’t have approached that direction, however, I feel strongly that we picked him and I think he’s going to be great for our city.”
Sturges said he supported Ayscue’s idea of the city purchasing a house as a residence for future city managers.
“I think the city should, if we’re going to keep harping about the cost of housing, the city needs to make that investment (buying a house) but it will take months if not a long time before we decide on the location, what it is and how it is. I would not be afraid to go down that road in the future.”
Bach said that Ross is scheduled for his first day as city manager on Oct. 16.