Monticello City Council approves full-step increase for city administrator

Monticello council members approved a full-step, 3.4 percent pay increase for City Administrator Jeff O’Neill during a special meeting Monday morning, Dec. 23.

The current city administrator 2013 salary range is $81,399 to $105,819. O’Neill was hired in February 1988 and has been city administrator since 2006. Human Resources Manager Tracy Ergen reported O’Neill’s salary has been at the same level since the last cost of living adjustment (COLA) in July 2012.

Prior to the 7:30 a.m. meeting, O’Neill handed out a one-page goal-setting worksheet.

Goals from his Dec. 9 evaluation included boosting the city’s economic development efforts, making FiberNet Monticello a continued priority, task delegation and working with Kitty Baltos, Monticello Community Center (MCC) director, to help her achieve a threshold where 85 percent of MCC expenses come off of revenue as well as evaluating management staffing in the public works department.

O’Neill also provided a list of related goals for 2014. He asked the council to consider a goal-setting process in January and February and mentioned a six-month time frame for stabilizing FiberNet Monticello.

Future planning for city-owned recreation fields near the Bertram Chain of Lakes Regional Park, continued evaluation of the currently open public works position and staff transition planning in that city department, continued talks with St. Henry’s Catholic Church regarding land issues associated with Seventh Street, downtown redevelopment support activity, telecommunications tower development and the bowling alley site study were other key 2014 initiatives mentioned by O’Neill during the half-hour long step increase discussion Monday morning.

“There’s something that’s going on right now the council should be aware of that will affect my time,” O’Neill said. “There’s a group called the Greater Minnesota Partnership, a group of cities that are trying to get economic development going in their communities. One of their main priorities is introducing legislation to encourage private providers to extend broadband and provide more opportunities for municipalities,” O’Neill added. “They want to get out the Monticello FiberNet story accurately. We’ve been unable to get out front on some things that have been said about the project because of the revenue bond restructuring.”

According to O’Neill, the group will be lobbying to introduce legislation that will help other cities get out of similar broadband situations they might be facing.

“They identified broadband as their No. 1 or No. 2 priority,” O’Neill said. “It’s part of their approach for enhancing economic development in greater Minnesota.”

O’Neill said the Greater Minnesota Partnership has asked him to get involved in their effort, and that he’s already traveled to St. Paul to talk to their lobbyist.

“My role is to make sure the Monticello situation is represented properly in the state,” he said. “I think it’s an appropriate use of time. We did put together FiberNet for economic development. We don’t want our name dragged in the mud unnecessarily because it does affect our image as a place to do business.”

Councilmember Glen Posusta asked O’Neill for a status report on the FiberNet lawsuit with bondholders that remains tied up in federal court.

Mayor Clint Herbst and O’Neill agreed the lawsuit probably wouldn’t be resolved until September 2014. “Right now, there’s no big magic pill that’s going to make FiberNet all of a sudden be able to pay back its investors,” Herbst said. “We need to do what we can to get it to break even. That’s where it’s really going right now,” he added.

O’Neill also said he wanted to do a FiberNet community forum. The event would be an open house where people could come in and provide comments.

“If people have a negative thing to say, they could come and say it,” he said. “That would be up to the city council for you to do. It might be good to have in conjunction with these other efforts. We still have 1,500 loyal FiberNet customers who are sticking hard with us. We could also deal with any negatives.”

O’Neill’s goal-setting comments produced this response from Herbst: “How does that old phrase go? ‘Jack of All Trades, Master of None?’ I think you need to hone down your list. We need to pick out top items. You should not be spending one minute of your time on the bowling alley site or the telecommunications tower construction,” Herbst said. “Those things should be dealt with in memos and passed along. You take a look and give it a thumbs up or thumbs down.”

Councilmember Brain Stumpf agreed with Herbst. “As soon as we started on this list, I went to the top and circled delegation. You need to work on that.”

Posusta said he agreed with other council members that O’Neill was doing a good job, but he didn’t agree with approving a full step increase.

“A full step is a lot of money,” Posusta said. “I would be agreeable to a half-step. A full-step would mean $3,400 to $3,500 more a year. Remember, we as a council agreed to dole out cost of living [adjustment] increases next year based on health care cost increases. You tack a COLA onto a 3 percent step increase [and it’s too much].”

Herbst said the council agreed in O’Neill’s recently completed review that he was doing a good job, and city employees who do so should get a step increase.

“I think his performance was above satisfactory,” Herbst said. “Some people are willing to take on extra things. Jeff is taking on too many things.”

Councilmember Lloyd Hilgart said he disagreed with Posusta. “A step is a step,” Hilgart said. “I think my biggest disappointment [with O’Neill’s performance] is I feel like the prioritization skills aren’t honed down quite well enough. Maybe some of these things are important, but not near as important as others,” he said.

Ergen said normally, the city council could give a city employee a half-step increase and do a review after six months. “Jeff’s position is a little bit different,” she said. “He works under a contract, and that contract doesn’t specifically address those things. It’s up to the council.”

Herbst said that O’Neill and city staff told the council it was their preference not to bring on a new economic development director and a public works director.

“They said they could pick up the work before we even said we’d offer compensation for that,” Herbst said. “The city public works guys took care of things.”

Herbst said O’Neill deserved a full-step increase, but there was always room for him to improve. “That’s true of any city employee, no matter who it is” he said.

O’Neill replied: “I feel like I’ve worked hard the last two years. There have been big changes. There’s been no step increases for a long time. If you spread it out over a period of years, it’s not that extreme. I do respect what you have to say.” Herbst replied: “We are just as tough on the big chief as we are anyone down the totem pole. We expect a lot.” Herbst then made a motion to approve a full step increase for O’Neill. After Stumpf seconded, Councilmember Tom Perrault said that he agreed with Posusta. “There’s room for improvement,” Perrault said. “Work on prioritization, and work more on improving economic development.”

O’Neill replied: “I’m happy with the pay I’m getting. I like my job, and I like to make Monticello a better place. [But] I haven’t had a step increase in a long time.”

Herbst, Stumpf and Hilgart voted in favor of giving O’Neill the full-step increase as proposed. Posusta and Perrault voted no, and the motion passed 3-2.
Contact Tim Hennagir at [email protected]