Is $125K too much for a city manager?

The Local Beat column by Chris Graham
freepress2@ntelos.net

There has been some interesting discussion about how much outgoing Waynesboro city manager Doug Walker gets paid in the days since the announcement that Walker will be stepping down from his job effective June 30.

The focus of the talking has been that $125,000 a year is an awfully hefty sum for a city manager, considering that the average median income in the area is in the $30,000-a-year range.

I don’t know personally that one has to do with the other, but let’s go with the idea that we need to come up with some metric for comparing and contrasting the numbers so that we can get a sense of where things stand on this.

The first thing that we need to do is figure out where the pay for a city manager in Waynesboro compares to local-government administrative positions across the region here. By that metric, Walker might be a bit underpaid. Staunton city manager Steve Owen is paid $145,080, for instance, and the assistant city manager in the Queen City, Jim Halasz, makes $110,149 annually.

The assistant city manager in Charlottesville, Maurice Jones, almost makes what Walker does in the top job in Waynesboro – $122,408. The city manager in Charlottesville, Gary O’Connell, is paid $167,939 a year.

Back on our side of the hill, Harrisonburg city manager Kurt Hodgen is paid $137,500 a year, about 10 percent higher than Walker’s current contract in Waynesboro. And the county administrator in Augusta, Pat Coffield, makes $141,446 a year, about 12 percent more than Walker.

A second metric that I wanted to examine is a comparison of pay for local-government managers to CEOs of some of the big companies and educational institutions in our area. By that measure, all of the managers in local government could be viewed as being significantly underpaid, if you buy the notion, as I do, that the skill sets for running a local government and running a successful business or industry or college or university are pretty much the same.

The closest thing to an apples-to-apples comparison that I could come up with is to compare the salaries of our local city managers and county administrators to the salaries of Ntelos CEO Jim Quarforth (who was paid $450,000 in base salary and $379,413 in bonuses in 2007), UVa. president John Casteen (who was the second-highest-paid public college and university president in the country last year, at $753,672), JMU president Linwood Rose (who made $291,956 in 2005-2006), and Blue Ridge Community College president Jim Perkins (who made $145,000 in 2005-2006).

And this isn’t exactly apples-to-apples, but I looked up the pay for CEOs for Hershey, which has a plant in Augusta County (recently retired head honcho Richard Lenny was paid $1.1 million in salary and $10 million in bonuses in 2006); Meadwestvaco, another company with an operation in Augusta County (CEO John Luke was paid $985,000 and $1.9 million in bonuses in 2006); Gannett, which owns the News Leader in Staunton (CEO Craig Dubow was paid $2.95 million in salary and bonuses in 2006); and Media General, which owns the News Virginian in Waynesboro (CEO J. Stewart Bryan was paid $1.3 million in salary and bonuses in 2005).

Context. That’s what I’m aiming at here.

Is Doug Walker overpaid, underpaid, paid about what he should be? I’ll let you decide on that. And now that you have more in the way of background, I think you can do that better than you could a couple of minutes ago.


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