Shady Cove contract talks go long, come up empty

SHADY COVE — After nearly three hours of heated debate late last week, the Shady Cove City Council still couldn't agree on a new contract for City Administrator Danise Brakeman.

Brakeman was hired a year ago at an annual salary of $60,000. No sooner had she passed her six-month probationary review than the city's Public Works director, George Bostic, retired, requiring Brakeman to take up many of his duties. Faced with her added responsibilities, she asked the council to renegotiate her contract.

In September, Councilmen Bill Kyle and Jim Ulrich volunteered to consult with an attorney for advice on making appropriate changes to Brakeman's contract and changing her job description to conform to current law.

The contract debated at the meeting last week would have increased Brakeman's salary by $6,000 a year and added other potential, new incentives, which didn't sit well with Councilmen Leith Hayes and Gary Hughes.

"I'm really upset over this whole process," said Hughes. "This is a contract that I got last night that I did not participate in. The mayor and the other two councilors, I'm assuming, created this contract, and Leith and I have not had any participation in it."

Hughes said he believed that the meeting with the attorney was meant to be a cleanup of legal language and not a negotiation of new benefits.

"First of all," said Mayor Ron Holthusen, "they had the assignment from council to do that, to "…"

"They did not," interrupted Hughes.

"OK, we have a difference of opinion," said Holthusen, "but they did meet. Then they presented that to me, and I took it to Danise, and we went through it. We met with the attorney and Bill (Kyle) over the phone, to clarify issues and get something together."

"I'm telling you," said Hughes, "that this contract has all kinds of benefits in there that I did not have the privilege to look at. The three of you did."

"I did tell you yesterday," said Holthusen, "that because it's on the agenda, and you haven't had a chance to look at it, let's move it out to two weeks from now."

"I've read it, all eight pages," said Hughes. "I think this contract is too lucrative."

"OK, let's talk about compensation," said Holthusen. "The proposed agreement has a salary range of $5,500 a month, effective November 1. "… The question is, is this salary level not commensurate with other cities? Our study says we're in the lower 30 percent of salaries for cities near our size."

"In today's times," said Hayes, "I'm just staggered by the increase. When the city administrator accepted the position, she was aware of what the salary paid, and I apologize if someone thought they'd get a 10 percent raise after just one year."

Kyle defended the raise and said it had already been included as a possibility in the city's budget.

"Look what she's done here," he said. "So as far as I'm concerned, she's entitled to it."

Holthusen said he thought Brakeman should have a chance to speak for herself and asked her to describe how her job had changed.

"You can see from my monthly reports," Brakeman said, "that the majority of it is public works. There's a lot to do with public works, even with contracting out some of the functions. It's added a significant workload for me, and that's not what I signed up for. But I'm happy to do it, because that's what we need right now."

Termination benefits seemed to be the most-disputed item in the new contract.

Hughes said he didn't mind that the city would have to pay 120 days salary if it terminated an administrator, but he questioned a new provision that would extend pay for an administrator who voluntarily quit with a 45- or 90-day notice.

"We would pay another 45 or 90 days in salary after they leave," he said.

Holthusen said the intent was "if the employee terminates, we want a minimum notice of 45 days, and in return, we are giving 45 days' severance."

"The idea," said Kyle, "is to give us a chance to advertise and so on for a new administrator."

Hayes said he felt somewhere between "disappointed and outraged. I'll never be able to vote for this," he said.

Seeing that the obvious 3-2 vote in favor of the contract would divide the council even more, Ulrich called for compromise.

"I don't like this, us against them, that we're facing," he said. "I'm for this contract, but if there's a middle ground, I'm willing to explore it."

Holthusen agreed and said he thought it would be best for Shady Cove if they could work out a contract that would get a 5-0 vote.

They tried for another hour, but were still stymied.

"We're obviously not going to solve this tonight," said Holthusen. "We're saying we go back to the attorney with this and see if he comes up with a different approach to it."

Holthusen said the issue will be ready for Council's next meeting, Thursday, Dec. 1.

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com.

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