Commissioners voice concerns about city manager's contract

Gripes revolve around buying back home, incentives
Andy Ouriel
May 31, 2014

ouriel@sanduskyregister.com

Controversy already surrounds the hiring of Sandusky’s new city manager several weeks before he even begins.

Several city commissioners voiced concerns about certain clauses pertaining to Eric Wobser’s four-year agreement during Tuesday’s public meeting.

Ultimately, commissioners voted 6-1 to approve Wobser’s four-year contract, starting on July 7, which pays him at least $120,000 a year.

Among the concerns:

• Clause No. 1: If city commissioners vote to fire Wobser anytime up until July 2018, then officials — by using local taxpayer funds — must purchase his home at fair market value if he can’t sell his house within a four-month period after getting terminated.

• Commissioner expressing this concern: Naomi Twine, the lone dissenting official to cast a "no" vote.

• Opinion: “If there ever was a time we would have to terminate Mr. Wobser, then I don’t think it’s in the right interest of taxpayers to purchase this house,” Twine said. “We just got through trying to salvage layoffs for firefighters. We have to pave streets, trim trees (and do more on limited funding). If we have to fire a city manager and purchase the house, it just does not send the right message.”

• Counter reaction: “I don’t have a problem with it,” commissioner Julie Farrar said. “I think that this commission would probably think harder and look longer into doing what they can to retain an employee if they know they are going to have to buy the house back. If I have to spend taxpayer dollars to buy back a house from someone we are going to fire, then I think we would be more apt to work with him. It keeps us working with the city manager.”

• Clause No. 2: Wobser can earn as much as $136,000 annually from July 7, 2015, onward if he completes certain tasks revolving around economic development, neighborhood revitalization and other benchmarks. His base salary totals $120,000 a year.

• Commissioner expressing this concern: Wes Poole.

• Opinion: “I believe that in a civil service-type (job) to the community, incentives to government employees are pretty much inappropriate,” Poole said. “We are not here for profit. Having a profit motive for doing good work is not something I’m supportive of. I’m just opposed to incentives.”

• Counter reaction: Incentives “are something I’m particularly fond of,” Sandusky ex officio mayor Dennis Murray Jr. said. “It’s something of a best practice these days, but it will have to be something that commission and Mr. Wobser must work out.”

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City manager contract details

Newly appointed city manager Eric Wobser and city commissioners recently agreed to a new four-year contract, starting on July 7 and running through July 2018.

Wobser — who grew up in Sandusky and Perkins Township but graduated from Edison High School in 1997 — resigned from his post at Ohio City Inc., a nonprofit company overseeing community development in a vibrant neighborhood near Cleveland. During the past five years, Wobser spearheaded initiatives to reduce blight and promote business development.

Among the contract’s major highlights, Wobser stands to: 

•Earn no less than $120,000 a year.

•Receive as much as $136,000 annually, from July 7, 2015, onward if he completes certain yearly benchmarks set for him. The criteria for bonus pay revolves around Wobser developing, spearheading and implementing goals based on four city topics: economic and neighborhood development; financial management and budgeting; regional collaboration; and communications, marketing and community engagement.

•Obtain health insurance all other city employees can subscribe to.

•Acquire 15 paid administrative leave days — which can be used on vacation, sick leave or personal time, among other reasons — in the first full year he works for Sandusky. Any days not used up until July 2015 can’t carryover into future years and will be forfeited.

•Amass the amount of vacation time and other perks that a 14-year city employee would normally receive after working one full year. This is mainly for vacation purposes. He stands to receive three weeks of vacation time in his second year. He can then accrue and save any unused time in accordance with Sandusky’s bylaws. In the contract’s third and fourth years, Wobser can receive four weeks of vacation each year.

•Reap $6,000 annually for reimbursements related to education, professional development and membership fees.

•Collect $10,000 to cover relocation costs when he eventually moves into Sandusky.

Comments

YoMamma

Incentives a "best practice"... Really!?!?!?!

WhatTheHeck

Are they all stupid?

WhatTheHeck

It's hilarious to think that 6 out of 7 people voted to hire this guy under this contract. Wes voted for it. What is up with that??

Julie R.

Julie F. says if the commission knew they were going to have to buy a house back they would be more apt to "work with the city manager."

That sure was a stupid thing to say. She just admitted they did not work with the other ones because they had no incentive to.

Gardenman

Opps the honeymoon is in jeopardy before he even arrives in town. Still say this new city manager is smart......he knows Sandusky's track record on city managers and he is prepared for whatever comes down the road. Can't blame him !! Sandusky is not known as a place of longevity for city managers.

sugar

A roomful of idiots.

Gardenman

Look at the bright side. If it passes at the ballot box next November there will be two less idiots on City Commission. Hmmm guess that does not make them any smarter though???

YoMamma

Instead of pay increases the unions should negotiate for "incentives".

Chirp

Why shouldn't there be incentives? Commissioners of days past have already proven they aren't willing to work with good city managers. Mr. Wobser's honeymoon period will last a lot longer if the Register doesn't decide to tear him to pieces every chance they get.

From the Grave

What if he goes and buys a million dollar house on the Chausee?

Chirp

Who cares if he does? As long as he gets a chance to do his job, the commissioners shouldn't fire him within that short time period anyway.

From the Grave

I agree, but did the city put any stipulations into the contract in regards to where the house is, or it's value? That's what I would have done. He's just a new employee with NO track record. Why should he get everything he wants?

ladydye_5

Its a contract, both sides had to add/remove parts, read it, agree to it and sign it. They knew what was in it. If they didn't like it why did the City sign it? It is not that "he gets everything he wants". It is what BOTH SIDES agreed to and BOTH SIDES signed.

T. A. Schwanger

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ladydye_5

It's always easy to give extravagant incentives when it's someone else's money.

The idea of a contract with a house buyback clause and other incentives for a City Manger when, in accordance with the City Charter, he/she serves at the pleasure of the City Commission, is penny wise and pound foolish. The idea of a City Manager contract began with the Matt Kline days.

According to Farrar, the idea of buying backing the City Managers house, using mine and yours tax dollars, is an incentive for City Commissioners to keep a lackluster performing employee on the payroll is fine.

Did the writers of this agreement consider a precident has been created by including the house buyback clause? Future hired City Managers will expect the same deal.

JT Adams St

@ T.A. Schwanger

"It's always easy to give extravagant incentives when it's someone else's money." Excellent point. I wonder if the business owners on the commission give their employees contracts with incentive clauses? What about relocation funds? Promises to buy back the employee's home? A pension?

Of course, Nicole Ard had a very valuable severance package in her contract. But, according to Mayor Murray, she's not entitled to any serverance because the commissioners who negotiated that contract aren't the same commissioners who fired her. So maybe the commission is being more frugal than we realize.

If anything, I would have expected the commission to ask for a hometown discount from a city manager who has professed a purported desire to return to the area. Instead, we're lucky Murray didn't offer him a limo and a driver. But I suppose if the city runs into trouble paying the top dollar contracts that the Mayor insists on providing its non-union employees, it can always close another fire station.

Nemesis

"Excellent point. I wonder if the business owners on the commission give their employees contracts with incentive clauses? What about relocation funds? Promises to buy back the employee's home? A pension? "

For a sought after candidate with specialized skills being asked to leave secure positions? You bet they do. Go ask Murray what he thinks it would cost him to poach one of Jones Day's star litigators.

"If anything, I would have expected the commission to ask for a hometown discount from a city manager who has professed a purported desire to return to the area."

They could ask, but then they'd likely have to go through the selection process all over again. They're asking him to quit a very secure job where he is held in high esteem and relocate to fill a position with a history of being a career abattoir. Only a fool would make that move without some concessions to offset the personal financial risk. Do you want a fool for a city manager (again)? The last decade or so has made the position unattractive - Sandusky has a lot of history to live down before they can expect not to pay a premium to entice anyone with half a brain to sit in that hot seat.

Oh, and Tim, a 10% bonus for turning around a disaster like Sandusky's city finances, for someone in an executive position, is hardly extravagant. Mr. Poole for all his marxist disdain for incentives, makes a good bet that the incentives will not be awarded because it would take a miracle worker to walk in and achieve the trigger goals. If he can pull it off, he deserves every penny.

Do I think the city needs Wobser or that his performance will
justify the package? I honestly don't know, but that's irrelevant - if you want him, you have to match what the market will bear. I don't think they got their money's worth out of Ard, but, at least before news of her failure in Sandusky hit the streets, it was about what she could command in the marketplace.

For people who pontificate so much on Sandusky's economic development, your insinuations betray a shocking failure to grasp the dynamics of the marketplace.

Fibber Mcgee

Well... if he is fired, the city buys the house back, tears it down and puts in a city park on the Chausee, Priceless!

Gardenman

Good point had not thought of that one !!!

JT Adams St

I'm glad to see that Commissioner Twine recognizes the need to pave roads and trim trees. I hope that means that she is going to support an increase in the admissions tax.

ski

Boy is this board negative. All the discussion revolves around contract provisions that must have been supported to begin with, otherwise the contract would have been written differently. Pay the man what you agreed to pay him on hiring, cheerfully, and try to make it as easy as possible for him to succeed. If he is successful, the bonus amount paid will be worth every penny and the termination clauses will become meaningless.

Whiskey in a Teacup

Should the city manager require incentive to improve and properly manage developments and depArtments? Isn't that already in the job description?
Should we be including in the contract a clause which gives us incentive to consider retaining an employee that doesn't prove reliable?
>> It sounds like we expect a minimum of mediocracy. And if that becomes too much for Mr Wobser then by our own hand he's sort of got us by the boot, and we will be forced to have to "work with him".

Nemesis

Or MAYBE, the contract represents a cut in the first few years from what he was asking, until he proves himself. Just think how much the city could have saved if they'd been as cautious in writing Ms. Ard's contract?

Julie R.

Why should there be incentives? Shouldn't the $120K base salary be incentive enough?

reader

No one was going to accept the manager's job without some protection in case of termination.

Let's all give Eric Wobser a chance to come and do the job.

YoMamma

I have no problem letting the man do his job. I am hoping the commission will allow that too. At the same time why are incentives so important with govt. workers? Should we give the custodian an incentive if he/she sweeps? Where does it stop? It's as bad as the school letting the kids go bowling because the went to school during the week of testing! Is the kid supposed to go to school every other day too?

From the Grave

And shouldn't we EXPECT the commissioners to question his contract? Aren't they obligated to the taxpayers to do that?

Blowfish

Some members have no idea what the market price is for a good city manager. If he is really that good, this is just the start. They need to know the goal of a city manager this young is eventually manage a larger city. Sandusky you are just a stepping stone.

SamAdams

As far as I'm concerned, "incentive" should consist of performing your job well enough to KEEP it!

That being said, the people who have pointed out that the contract was negotiated and signed by all parties are right. I'm sure there are things Mr. Wobser asked for and didn't get; I'm sure there are things the City tried to include that didn't go through. That's how contract negotiations work! As for the house buyback, given Sandusky's track record on City Managers, can you seriously blame the man for asking that this be included?

Darkhorse

The city contract started when Mike Will became city manager. Before that, none of our city managers were under contract. With every contract, the perks get more expensive. As for rewarding someone for getting terminated by buying back his house, anyone who gets terminated shouldn't get any reward. When you are terminated other then layoff, you get nothing when you walk out the door.

Forward Looking

In order to get good people and at the whim of Commissioners, who have varying degrees of work & corporate experience, it is wise for Eric to have the house purchase clause. What happens when in the process of doing his job he ruffles feathers and he is terminated? If he doesn't ruffle feathers, he won't be affective. Too many of the Commissioners are overly sensitive and take things personally due to lack of leadership experience. I see nothing wrong w/ his contract and is typical of many Executive positions. Let's not make this into a bigger deal than it needs to be. Eric has proven experience and I look forward to a renewed contract in 2018.

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