By J.R. SPARKE
Two weeks after having received a $15,000 increase in his annual pay, Herington City Manager Ron Strickland voluntarily agreed to a $10,000 reduction in that amount. His yearly pay will now be slightly more than $91,000.
Herington City Commission members met in closed session for a total of 1 hour, 20 minutes during a regular semi-monthly meeting Tuesday to discuss the non-elected personnel matter. City Attorney Brad Jantz joined the five-member commission during both sessions. Strickland was called in to meet with the group during a portion of the second session.
More than 50 persons crowded into the commission meeting room, with most opposing the governing body’s action during a Feb. 19 meeting. Several others gathered in the City Hall lobby.
When Tuesday’s meeting was re-opened to the public, Mayor Robbin Bell moved to modify Strickland’s contract and set his pay increase at $5,000. Commissioner Beth Wade seconded the motion. Commissioners approved the motion on a 5-0 vote.
During the Feb. 19 meeting, a 3-0 vote was cast to approve the larger pay hike. Mayor Bell and Commissioner Fred Olsen were absent from the session.
Commissioner D.J. Neuberger publicly thanked Strickland for agreeing to the pay cut.
“He has done a good job for the city, and we need to keep him,” Commissioner Neuberger said of Strickland.
Commissioner Woodie Haire offered more extensive comments. He noted Strickland’s leadership in getting an overpass built over railroad tracks in Herington, construction of a new and more energy-efficient Community Building and completion of an award-winning South Fifth Street improvement project.
Haire said Strickland had worked with the city’s budget to provide the Herington Municipal Hospital with additional funding to allow the heath care facility to remain open.
The commissioner added that there are plans for future projects, but did not name them specifically.
Turning to Strickland, Commissioner Haire said, “I appreciate what you’ve done.”
“You guys see only what you want to see,” the commissioner told audience members.
Mayor Bell and Commissioners Beth Wade and Olsen did not offer comments.
Herington resident Bart Hinkle was the only person allowed to address the commission concerning Strickland’s employment contract since he was the only person who had requested to be placed on Tuesday’s meeting agenda.
Hinkle alleged that the terms of the contract, which became effective on May 1, 2007, had been violated in several ways and should be considered null and void.
The Herington resident questioned why the commission had not carried through with annual written evaluations of the city manager, which he said was included in the contract’s terms.
Hinkle additionally noted that the contract did not have an end date, unlike surety bonds covering Strickland and the commissioners. He suggested that the city manager’s employment be terminated when the surety bond expires in June.
Alleging Strickland was not an effective communicator, either verbally or in writing, Hinkle said this, too, was a contract violation.
And the $9,000 in moving expenses Strickland received in 2007, was that for moving to or from Herington, Hinkle asked.
Jantz responded to Hinkle by referring to the city manager’s contract.
The agreement was not an open-ended document, the city attorney said. The city commission could end Strickland’s employment at any regular or special-called meeting.
Written evaluations were not required under contract terms, Jantz said. There was the opportunity to have written evaluations, but verbal evaluations were sufficient to meet contract terms.
The moving expenses were paid for Strickland to relocate from Cherokee, Iowa, to Herington, Jantz said.
There were two slightly heated exchanges during the meeting.
Strickland told Hinkle not to belittle him when Hinkle strayed from talking about contract terms and offered personal comments about the city manager.
Jantz also took exception to Hinkle’s allegation he was being “surly”.
“You don’t know me,” the city attorney said to Hinkle.
In another matter, the commission approved a Charter Ordinance to allow three of the seven Herington Municipal Library trustees to reside outside the city limits, but within 15 miles of the community’s corporate boundaries.
Jantz said the request for a change had been made by board members.
The ordinance will become effective after two publications in the official city newspaper and a 61-day waiting period, unless a successful petition is filed in opposition to the action.
The Herington City Commission is next scheduled to meet at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 19.