Members of the Des Moines City Council voted 5-2 to approve City Manager Michael Matthias’ pay raise on Jan. 23, 2020.

By Jack Mayne

At their last meeting in January, the Des Moines City Council approved an annual five percent step increase in the contract of City Manager Michael Matthias, but new Councilmember J.C. Harris says citizens are restless for help with their perceived problems.

They were told by Harris that while the city manager is lauded for his handling of the city finances, but many residents are more concerned about when council will work on “things they want.”

Matthias contract
The Council agenda mentioned Matthias’ contract to “review the 2019-20 performance of City Manager Michael Matthias and to consider a five percent annual step increase” along with any “additional contract amendment the Council deems appropriate.”

Then the agenda noted that “following the conclusion of the performance evaluation, if the Council finds that the City Manager has demonstrated a sustained exemplary performance,” to can approve a single step increase … effective February 1, 2020.”

Des Moines resident Saundra Mock said other city managers makes less than Matthias and that a raise of less than five percent would be more acceptable. She said Matthias has “has done a good job but an increase at this point of time, is outrageous.”

Five percent raise
At tail end of the Council meeting Jan. 23, came the issue on whether to accept the performance review of the city manager and granting of a five percent increase, introduced by Mayor Matt Pina.

“It is very hard to, and I truly understand, to articulate all the things that Michael Matthias does and has brought to the city and a lot of people look at it and tie it to compensation,” said Pina. “We can have the discussion about what it was like when he came and where we are now and that is not an in insignificant conversation but we had it a number of times.”

“When you look at the leader of over a $100,000 million organization, the number of employees we have and the face we are a multifaceted business, what I mean by that is that we are not a trucking company, we are not an airline, we have to take care of roads, infrastructure, laws, legal issues, a law enforcement team. There is all these things we have to do.

“You really have to be qualified to do this and people will say, ‘Well, what about this city manager and how do we get the cops? We we do look at the other city managers make and what do they bring to the table.”

Mayor backs Matthias
Pina noted the several masters degrees held by Matthias from such institutions as Oxford, Cambridge and the University of California.

“He also has a lifetime of experience working in the public and private structures,” the mayor said, adding that there are many organizations that have fewer responsibilities and the leader makes far more than Matthias does, and gets bonuses.

“You have to value the people you have and you have to pay them, because, if you don’t, they just go someplace else. We are lucky to have him here because he has chosen us,” said Pina.

The mayor said the previous city manager had not had a raise in several years because the performance of the city was near financial capacity, but Matthias took the job as city manager at the same amount as his predecessor, Tony Piasecki.

Pina said Matthias has saved the city $2 million since he took he job, “so we should thank him because he had been free.” He added that there are still challenges and problems to overcome.

“But we are in the best place we been … in decades.”

Departing Councilmember Pennington said that Matthias’ ability to “guide his people, his ability to bring in investors

Then Pina moved Matthias be granted a five percent income increase, seconded by Councilmember Matt Mahoney.

Support and Opposition
In a Facebook comment, Councilmember Traci Buxton said the past week “Mr. Matthias just had his annual review, and we gave him his charted, five percent step increase. This is standard for most cities in our region (I checked) and common in our nation. He is now on auto-pilot with a step increase available once per year if he has exemplary performance.”

Pennington said Matthias has the ability to talk with, do business with people he had relationships with, many “would say no” of a direct attempt by the city staff to discuss potential activities for Des Moines. “They come to us now.” If the city loses that connection opportunity, “then we lost this city and I firmly believe that.”

New member Harris said he asked why Matthias would want this job.

“This is brutal, a job review in public. I wouldn’t want it for any reason,” Harris told the Council session. “He told me he loved the job and I believed him. I am making my decision strictly based on 2019 and based on fact.

“There is nothing personal involved …I do not believe in -automatic- raises above and beyond COLA. They are inappropriate for a CEO of a corporation like ours. Raises should be negotiated only -after- the review. Otherwise it creates an expectation for the City Manager and hard feelings if the raise is not forthcoming.”

Harris said there should be annual reviews and “I want to be in the position as a city to say we’ve gone in a different direction. Thank you for your service.”

He noted the “city fiscally is much more sound, so as an administrator. bang up job so thank you.

“But the public is not thrilled about a lot of things. The city has done a poor job on communications.”

Many people think the city has been run in a high handed way “and Michael has not done anything to change that and its a primary importance to me.”

Harris said the financial turnaround was in 2016 but the public tells them they want different changes, “what they want.”

“Again, much of the reasoning by the majority for the increases was to reward Mr. Matthias for accomplishments from previous years–sort of a ‘back pay’ for what they consider to be ‘underpayment’ on his original contract.

“When are we going to start working on things they want?” Harris added he has “not be thrilled” about the way the city has handled the problems of the airport.”

He said those are the reasons he ran for City Council.

He voted against the pay increase.

Citizens should decide
Councilmember Anthony Martinelli said he does not support a strong mayor system for the city but does think the voters should vote individually for the mayor, who would continue to be the presiding officer at Council meetings. “People should be making the decision (on the mayor) and not us.”

The council can grant an annual step increase contingent on Matthias demonstrating “sustained exemplary performance, as determined by the City Council.” The only performance evaluation in 2019 was completed last April.

The City Council discussed the city manager’s performance in December and Councilmembers have been provided the opportunity to complete a formal written performance evaluation.

Pennington leaves
Councilmember and Deputy Mayor Victor Pennington Vic Pennington resigned from the Council on Thursday evening after six years as he is is stepping from one leadership role to another this month.

Mayor Matt Pina told the Council he would miss Pennington’s presence on the Council and former Councilmember Luisa Bangs, who left the Council in December, said she would missing working with Pennington.

Pina said Pennington has “great strengths and great wisdom and it has been an honor to serve with him.”

Pennington has more than 44 years of experience in the fire service, with the last 12 served with South King Fire and Rescue. As assistant chief, Pennington has directly worked with current fire chief Allen Church for the last two years. Church announced his retirement from South King on Jan. 1 with than 41 years of paid career fire service in the Federal Way and Des Moines.