Posted on Categories Policy 1043

I’ve gotten at least two dozen phone calls and messages from residents since last Thursday’s City Council Meeting where our City Manager, Michael Matthias had his annual Performance Review.

I said much of what I have to say on this from the dais. But since so many people keep asking me about it (or are unaware of what happened), and since my peer on the Council Traci Buxton put out a blizzard of comments in defense of the votes, I figured I’d try to put my thoughts in a more organised fashion.

(By the way–I voted ‘no’ on both motions to increase Mr. Matthias’ salary. At the risk of sounding whatever it kinda saddens me that people read my comments and think I voted for the increases. C’mon, people! 😀 )


The issue begins at 2:13:00
My comments start at 3:04:00

  1. The proposed change was a 5% step automatic increase, which was on the Agenda for a formal vote. I said from the dais that I do not believe in automatic raises beyond COLA. I believe that one’s salary should never ‘automatically’ increase;  a new rate should be up for negotiation only after a proper review. So the problem is ongoing. Mr. Matthias is now at the extreme top end of salaries for a City of our size. Next year his salary will reach that of Cities many times larger than Des Moines, such as Tacoma! And it will continue to expand with each passing year. That is simply unacceptable, regardless of the quality of his work.
  2. However, an even greater change to his compensation was the ad hoc motion by departing Councilmember Pennington to literally triple his severance package. That was the cash equivalent of over $200,000 approved with no staff research or prior notice (as always happens with an Agenda Item). No expenditure of that magnitude should ever occur without being on the official Agenda. Even during an emergency (like the recent Woodmont slide), an official memo will be presented for the Council to vote on. Worst of all, this motion was completely pre-planned by the five members of the majority to be presented this way, at the last moments of the meeting. This motion was unethical and damaged both our City’s reputation and the public’s trust in us.
  3. The five members of the majority wanted the increase in severance pay not only to reward Mr. Matthias for his work (a sort of bonus), but specifically to make it difficult for future Councils to make a change. They said, from the dais, that they were concerned that a future Council might (foolishly) attempt to undo what they consider his indispensable work. The arrogance of this is truly profound. Mr. Matthias is the City’s Economic Development Director. That was his original position before being elevated to City Manager. Should a future Council wish to make a change in Economic Development, we’re now saddled with a large payout which would, indeed, make it harder to make a change–even if it’s in the best interest of our City. The current majority has thus handcuffed the flexibility of a future Council because ‘they know better’. This sets a terrible precedent.
  4. Last December the same majority members of the Council were concerned that comments from the dais were going on too long. So they voted to add timers to limit comment to 4 minutes. 😀 Which is ironic since four of my peers went on for 1 hr and 12 minutes defending the salary increase. (That was the longest discussion period since last year’s salary increase.) And here’s my point: If you feel like you have to work that hard to convince the public to buy something? Maybe you should re-consider what yer tryin’ to sell.  Even this weekend, Councilmember Buxton has been going full-throttle to defend the decision on social media. Fair play. My only objection to that is that she presents her views not as opinion, but as ‘transparency’. The word ‘transparency’ implies an objective presentation of facts, not merely the ones which support one’s viewpoint.
  5. Finally, during the Council’s hour-long defense/sales pitch, they repeatedly used phrases such as:
    • “This town won’t succeed without Michael.”.
    • “If we lose Michael, we’ll go back to the way things were 25 years ago.”
    • “We’ve got to protect Michael no matter what it takes.”

    Look, one always strives for a great working relationship, but there is a certain professional distance that one must maintain between any CEO and their supervisors for the good of the City. But the majority’s praise for our City Manager was so effusive as to cross that line entirely. Even if I agreed that Mr. Matthias’ accomplishments were as grand as they say, no one should be thought of, or presented to the public, as being indispensable to an organisation, and certainly not our city.

  6. You’ll notice that I have not commented on the quality of Mr. Matthias’ work. I had several objections to his salary increases, based not on his work as an Administrator, but on his other official positions, as Chairman of our Aviation Advisory Committee and as his position as Economic Development Director. I do not think the City’s business and retail environment have gone in the right direction and I know that the City has not done a great job in improving the problems we are experiencing from Sea-Tac Airport. But most of my objections to the contract changes have nothing to do with performance and everything to do with the process. During my campaign I railed against a City Council that acts in a high-handed manner, without concern for the public’s opinion. Since the election, my peers have asked me about this. They have seemed genuinely confused as to what I was talking about. Well, this whole affair is exactly what I was talking about. And the fact that the current majority cannot recognise how tone deaf they are being to the public’s feelings means that we still have a lot of work to do in improving our relationship with our residents.

Mr. Matthias has done exemplary work in many areas (as I’ve said many times). The point of this post was not to complain about his performance or to impune his character. But the manner in which his Performance Review was handled was simply outrageous.