In the Escondido City Council meeting of June 26, deputy mayor Olga Diaz pulled the employment contract renewal of city manager Clay Phillips and city attorney Jeffrey Epp from the consent calendar. What started out to be just another item on the consent calendar became a 40-minute discussion highlighted by barbed comments about the city’s fiscal prudence.
Both Phillips and Epp have identical proposed contracts that last three years, commencing June 26, 2013. Each would receive an immediate 3.95 percent base pay raise to $234,719, with another 2.95 percent raise to $241,643 on July 1, 2014, and a final raise of 4.95 percent to $253,605 six months later, on January 1, 2015. The focus of the discussion centered only on the base salaries and raises of the three-year contract.
Diaz, the lone dissenter of the five-member council, gave her reasoning: “I have a concern about the fiscal prudence of giving raises to top management. It’s too soon to give raises in this range when we still have city employees that have not fully recovered from the concessions that they agreed to as part of the economic hardship the city experienced.”
Diaz continued, “We’re setting a precedent that if we’re giving [raises of] 3.95 percent, 2.95 percent, and 4.95 percent. The city’s budget is projected to grow 3 percent. This is out of line with our own projections of growth, but also when we go back to the bargaining table with each unit over the next year or two, their expectation is going to be this. I think that that’s something the city is setting itself up for some degree of failure later. I would choose to give no raise for at least another year or until we’re able to restore some of the things that were cut — library hours, for example, pool hours.”
Each in their turn, the other three council members and mayor praised Phillips and Epp.
Councilman John Masson said, “I’m really proud of what Jeff and Clay have done over the years. They have led our city through difficult times; they’ve made some really good decisions, brought in some excellent resources and economic development engines. I believe they are the top city attorney and city manager in all of San Diego County.”
Councilman Mike Morasco added, “I look at a glass half-full where we set a precedent and so we better work hard so we can meet expectations of the other negotiated groups when the time comes for contract renewals.”
Councilman Ed Gallo stated, “We told the city manager we want a balanced budget without using reserves. Make it happen. He made it happen…. Whatever we told him to do, he’s accomplished it — that’s the job of city manager. And our city attorney keeps us out of jail. This [contract] is what we agreed to do, and I’m good with it.”
With final comments mayor Sam Abed said, “I’m 100 percent behind our city manager because he’s done a great job. You might disagree, but the city manager is following our policy; but your disagreement with any issue should be with us [the city council]; it’s as simple as that.”
The discussion centered on the base pay of Phillips and Epp. What wasn’t discussed was the value of their fringe benefits, which increase their compensation by about 49 percent. When city-funded retirement contributions, health-insurance contributions, auto allowance, holidays, vacation, and management leave are factored into their compensation, they would each be paid annually about $350,000, effective June 26; $360,000, starting July 1, 2014; and $377,000 six months later. The contracts would expire July 1, 2016.