The absence of two Chesterfield City Councilmembers at a Feb. 21 meeting sparked some parliamentary maneuvering in an apparent effort to see which side would have enough votes to prevail on the pending issue of a pay increase for the city administrator.
Depending on one’s point of view, the end result was a stalemate of sorts that saw the question again put off until a future meeting. However, the delay also kept the pay raise issue ordinance alive when it likely would not have garnered the five votes needed for passage.
Understanding the issue requires a review of earlier actions and a key council policy, including:
When the council announced Mike Geisel’s hiring as city administrator in August 2016 to replace Michael Herring, who had retired earlier in the year, Councilmember Tom DeCampi [Ward 4] cast the only vote against Geisel’s selection after a nationwide search. DeCampi explained that he didn’t think Geisel would be able to bring about needed change at city hall due to Geisel’s long tenure as a city employee.
The council consensus when Geisel was hired was that he would not be eligible for a merit pay increase until January 2018. Geisel’s salary in his new position was set at $170,000 annually, approximately 20 percent more than his pay as director of public services.
When the question of a merit increase for Geisel was discussed during a closed-door session a number of weeks ago, the council approved a 2-percent raise, or $3,400. In comments at the Feb. 21 meeting, Mayor Bob Nation noted the approval came on a 5-3 vote.
At the Feb. 5 council meeting, the ordinance authorizing the pay hike was scheduled for its required two readings and council vote. But having two readings at the same meeting requires a suspension of the council’s rules and, after considerable debate, the motion to suspend resulted in a 4-4 tie.
There was some confusion about whether the rules suspension required a simple majority or a two-thirds approval vote. Mayor Bob Nation’s vote to break the tie would have provided a simple majority but not the two-thirds margin. He ultimately declared the motion to suspend the rules had failed, which brought the salary ordinance up for a second reading at the council’s Feb. 21 session.
At both meetings, City Attorney Chris Graville noted that he had prepared the ordinance and called for both readings at the early February session because the council merely would be affirming a decision it already had made.
Absent from the most recent meeting were councilmembers Barry Flachsbart [Ward 1] and DeCampi, who arrived after the vote delaying the pay raise issue. DeCampi noted that he had been held up by weather and traffic on a return trip from out of state.
Before the salary ordinance came up for consideration, Councilmember Dan Hurt [Ward 3] moved to postpone the issue until a later meeting when all members would be present to vote on it. Because the salary change was spelled out in an ordinance, five votes were needed for approval, regardless of the number of councilmembers present.
Councilmember Ben Keathley [Ward 2] opposed the delay, saying the measure was on the agenda and should be voted on.
With Keathley and Councilmember Michelle Ohley [Ward 4] voting against any delay, the motion nonetheless was approved when Hurt and councilmembers Randy Logan [Ward 3], Guy Tilman [Ward 2] and Barbara McGuinness [Ward 1] supported it.
The 4-2 tally raised the likelihood that the pay raise ordinance would not have received the required minimum of five votes for approval if a delay had not been approved.
After the meeting, DeCampi left no doubt that he was opposed to any increase in Geisel’s salary.
Geisel received a 20-percent pay hike when he accepted the city administrator position in 2016 and his present salary already is higher than it should be when compared with top officials in other communities in the state, DeCampi said in comments to West Newsmagazine.
Barring unforeseen developments, the pay raise ordinance likely will be on the council’s March 5 meeting agenda.