Minot City Council doubles its pay, approves city manager contract
The pay for serving on the Minot City Council would double next year under an ordinance approved by the council on first reading Monday.
The council also approved a city manager’s contract that includes a salary increase next August.
Council members voted to increase their pay from $595 a month to $1,190 a month. The mayor’s pay will increase from $750 a month to $1,500 a month. The council approved a 2020 budget with those changes, but an ordinance update would make the change official.
“I think it’s long overdue for an update in compensation for these positions,” council member Josh Wolsky said. “I do not know whether I will seek this seat next summer in an election, but I know pay is a factor, and I think if we want qualified people who are willing to put in the time necessary to do this work, they should be justly compensated for that work.”
The last time the council considered raises was November 2016. At that time, council members rejected a raise to $1,000 for members and $1,500 for the mayor.
“These things do have to be updated from time to time, and I think this is as good a time as any,” Council President Mark Jantzer said. “Although it is a significant increase from what it was, it is by no means high in terms of what other jurisdictions, other similar cities, have in place.”
Council member Stephan Podrygula said he did additional research beyond the information provided by city staff regarding council salaries in other communities. Of 16 cities on which the city has data, Minot has the second lowest council salaries.
“This is a market-based survey. One individual I talked with in a North Dakota city, she started laughing when I told her what our compensation was,” Podrygula said. “The other individuals that I’ve shared our compensation with, in return for their sharing their public information, had a very similar reaction. They just couldn’t believe it.”
He also calculated Minot’s salary to be $7.14 an hour based on 20 hours a week. He estimated he averages two and a half days a week on city business. He cited the need to attract and keep good people in government and not just limit public service to those with personal wealth.
“If we devalue public service by not paying people who are in public service adequately – not exorbitantly but adequately, what the market says the compensation is – I think that is making a statement about government and that’s not a statement I want to make,” Podrygula said.
“It is a sacrifice of time, which is also time away from your job and lost income in many cases,” Mayor Shaun Sipma said. He said he is willing to take backlash from a few in the community who see a pay raise as self serving because he is looking down the road to attracting future leaders.
The council voted 6-1 to approve the pay change, with Shannon Straight voting no.
The council cast the same 6-1 vote to approve a five-year contract for City Manager Tom Barry that extends the current contract to August 2025. Barry’s contract began Dec. 12, 2016, and originally was set to expire Dec. 11, 2019, but had been extended to Aug. 11, 2020.
Sipma said other cities, including Bismarck and Grand Forks, have five-year contracts for their administrators. Minot had a five-year contract with a previous city manager, David Waind.
“The five years would keep the institutional knowledge in place through the NDR program – the National Disaster Resiliency – and get us further into the ongoing flood control project,” Sipma said. “The provisions negotiated also provide protection to both the city manager and to the city ourselves as a municipality.”
Amendments included with the contract extension increase the severance package from six months of pay to 12 months. The severance package would be paid only if the city removes Barry without cause, and acceptance by Barry would preclude him from suing. If Barry terminates the agreement before it expires, he would not receive severance.
The contract amendment also spells out that Barry would receive pay for any of his 300 hours of annual leave left unused and up to 240 hours of unused sick leave. The contract provides Barry with a 3% increase in base pay, or about $5,000, next August.
Sipma noted job evaluations have shown Barry to be above average in meeting job requirements. He listed among accomplishments the substantial financial corrections to better identify the real cost of government, a budget overhaul that includes a five-year forecast and operational goals, reduction in employee turnover, lobbying that led to a 250% increase in state hub city funding and overhaul of the Capital Improvement Plan to include more details and refined cost estimates.
“We have a very capable, very hard-working and very, very productive city manager,” he said.
Sipma also addressed community conversations started by a local blogger regarding the last-minute addition of the contract to the agenda of the Nov. 18 meeting, where it was tabled.
“I find it a tad bit disingenuous, as 14 of the 22 agendas prior to this have also been amended on a Friday before a regular meeting that is held on a Monday,” he said. “It was added after the Wednesday deadline as we were waiting on the legal verification for some of the contract that was being proposed.”
Regarding the contract terms, Sipma said it is in line with other North Dakota communities.
“The reason I am going extensively into this is because there has been, I would say, some unnecessary blowback towards what is normally a very simplistic process, and had been for the better part of 20 years with former city manager Waind and former city manager (Lee) Staub,” Sipma said.
Council member Paul Pitner backed Sipma.
“It’s embarrassing that our community can attack such an asset that we have in City Manager Barry,” he said. “You pay somebody what they’re worth.”
“I don’t like this process. I do feel it’s rushed,” council member Shannon Straight said. If city agendas are being amended at the last minute, the deadline for inclusion on an agenda should be pushed back because the negative public reaction hurts staff and the morale of the community, he said.
Straight supported Barry but wanted a requirement in the contract for a comprehensive job evaluation.