In a flurry of activity, the Hollister City Council acted on resolutions that could affect the future of two current department directors. They also approved three new city positions.
Discussions concerning the employment contracts for Management Services Director Mike Chambless and Development Services Director Bryan Swanson split the council’s votes along two lines of reasoning on an employee’s value to the city compared to their compensation.
In a rare show of unity, Mayor Ignacio Velazquez, along with council members Marty Richman and Rolan Resendiz, wanted more information including performance evaluations, severance packages, comparisons of salaries for similar positions at comparably sized cities and, for Resendiz, evidence of revenues to the city generated by Chambless and Swanson.
Council members Honor Spencer and Carol Lenoir not only backed City Manager Bill Avera’s assertion that it was his responsibility—not the council’s—to vet the qualifications of staff, who work for him; both also reasoned that debating whether the two employees were worth their compensation packages was the kind of thinking that made it nearly impossible to retain a skilled staff.
After wrangling about renewing their contracts, motions were made to bump both resolutions to the council’s Aug. 19 meeting, the second available date after the month-long council recess in July. The 3-2 vote in favor of the motions on both contracts was further evidence of the divide on the council.
Velazquez wanted to know why Avera felt Chambless was the right person for the job, even though he has held the position, among others including airport director, for over 10 years. Avera said over the years Chambless has built up valuable contacts with the Federal Aviation Administration and other aviation associations. He said it would be difficult to find another person with Chambless’ depth of experience.
“I feel fortunate we have him and obviously we would have a difficult time replacing him,” Avera said.
Richman said he had problems with Chambless’ proposed compensation and severance packages. He said he analyzed the Consumer Price Index (CPI) in several cities over a number of years, which averaged about 2.7%. He said Chambless’ CPI of 5% was too high and his severance package too generous. He said there needed to be a survey of surrounding communities’ contracts and severance packages before he could approve the contract, because he is concerned about the 5% CPI being built into the contract if there should be another recession. He urged the other council members to join him in delaying the vote until Aug. 19.
Avera said that a survey of approximately 15 cities had already been conducted. He added that Hollister’s severance package is six months, the same as Salinas, Gilroy and other neighboring cities. Richman said he wasn’t giving a “hard no,” but just wanted to see the figures “on paper before making a decision.” He objected to an immediate 5% raise on a new salary range; Avera said Chambless would be getting a 5% raise anyway on his current salary.
Resendiz questioned the logic of the new contract that said Chambless would concentrate on economic development projects at the Hollister Municipal Airport when that function was already part of Chambless’ responsibilities. Avera explained that Chambless was spread too thin as he guides various projects throughout the city, which inevitably takes away his time from actually running the airport.
“We want the airport to succeed,” Avera insisted, telling the council it is an economic zone that needs to be managed properly.
Resendiz asked if Chambless concentrated on the airport, wouldn’t the city have to hire
someone else to “fill his shoes?” Avera said he did not want to hire a new community services director. Resendiz said he supported Richman’s suggestion to delay the vote in order to study the severance package.
“Well, we always talk about we want a competitive wage to get good people here,” Lenoir said, sounding dismayed. “The problem is we’ve gotten spoiled with people running multiple departments. It isn’t reasonable for one person to run the airport and public works. He’s been the biggest moneysaver in salaries since he got here. This man works hard. This is the kind of employee you want to retain.”
The mayor, though, maintained his insistence on a performance review and rethinking the 5% annual increase.
“He’s going to get 5% July 1, so what’s the difference?” Lenoir interjected.
Velazquez responded, “It’s a different position.”
The discussion moved to Swanson’s contract, with much of the same reasoning coming from both sides. Resendiz added that he would like to see proof of revenues that could be attributed to Swanson. Coincidentally, the last agenda item of the night did just that, according to Avera, when Swanson announced a $1.4 million windfall payment toward a 50-year lease on a cell tower the city owns.
Ultimately, though, Lenoir, Spencer and Avera’s attempts to convince the other three council members that Swanson and Chambless were more than qualified to receive new contracts and raises didn’t matter much, as they were outvoted on each as further discussions of both contracts were delayed until Aug. 19.
Three additional agenda items sought approval of the fully funded positions of senior planner, development services technician and environmental programs manager. All passed unanimously.