Pay raise, contract extension

MARQUETTE – For the second time in just more than six months, the Marquette City Commission agreed on Monday to offer a raise and a contract extension to City Manager Bill Vajda.

Acting on a recommendation from a three-member city manager contract committee, the full commission voted 5-2 to increase Vajda’s annual salary to $121,940 – effective Jan. 1 – and extend his contract 12 months, through Jan. 15, 2017.

At a meeting in July, the board voted to increase Vajda’s salary to $116,133 and to extend the pact 18 months. The group also changed the date of his annual evaluation to January at that time.

Since prior to the July meeting, Vajda’s salary has climbed from $113,300 to $121,940 – a shift that will eventually equate to a 7.63 percent increase.

During discussions of the manager review process last month, newly elected commissioners Sara Cambensy and Mike Coyne stated they were uncomfortable evaluating Vajda’s performance, as they had spent only a few weeks on the commission.

The committee’s recommendation to the full board Monday stated that the commission failed to set new goals and objectives for the manager during the July review, and noted that two commissioners were too new to render an evaluation.

“…thus, a formal evaluation was not completed at this time,” the recommendation reads. “Although our timing for evaluation purposes did not work out, we felt that an adjustment to compensation and contract terms was appropriate.”

Commissioners on Monday voiced strong approval for Vajda’s job performance in his first few years as manager, a position he has held since May of 2010, but some took issue with the review process.

Cambensy said she was nervous about approving another contract extension and claimed the full board was not given clear justification for the committee’s recommendation.

Commissioner Don Ryan shared her concerns.

“It seems like we just want to do this (review) in our spare time. To me this is one of the most important functions we have,” he said. “Like Commissioner Cambensy, I’m concerned about adding another year to the contract. We’re talking about a four-year contract. Nobody on this commission has a four-year contract.

“I think that’s going too far. I don’t care who the manager is.”

If the board hadn’t recently extended Vajda’s contract, Ryan said, that would be a different story.

Commissioner Jason Schneider – who sat on the review committee, along with commissioners Robert Niemi and Fred Stonehouse – said the extension was a vote of confidence for Vajda.

“I think we’re extremely fortunate to have Mr. Vajda as our city manager, and I am not uncomfortable with four years of a contract,” he said. “It shows to him a willingness on our part to step forward and work with him for the extended future and it provides him security.”

Stonehouse praised Vajda’s “character, ability, foresight and leadership” and said he was also very comfortable with the recommendation.

Cambensy and Ryan cast the only dissenting votes.

“Take our current city manager out of the equation. These contracts are unheard of these days,” Cambensy said. “I can’t give (the community) a good answer why I would vote yes on this.”

The motion also called for a special meeting, where the full commission will discuss the evaluation process – as well as 2013 goals – for both the city manager and the city attorney.

Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.