At the end of a marathon meeting, prolonged by a closed session that went more than two hours, Saline City Council voted 5-2 to approve an employment contract with City Manager Todd Campbell for the 2019-2020 year.
The deal will pay Campbell $131,209. That’s up from $124,887 two years ago. In addition, Campbell receives a car allowance of $4,500.
Council went into closed session at approximately 10:40 p.m. to discuss the city manager’s evaluation and a separate legal issue. Council returned to open session shortly after 1 a.m. and voted on the contract.
Mayor Brian Marl and Councillors Dean Girbach, Heidi McClelland, Jack Ceo and Linda TerHaar voted in favor of the contract. Councillors Janet Dillon and Christen Mitchell voted against the motion. Council did not discuss the motion in public.
The Saline Post has reached out to each member of council seeking comment.
Mayor Marl said he works with the city manager on almost a day-to-day basis.
“I think Todd has served this city well. I think he’s a person of integrity. I think he’s deeply committed to continuing to improve our organization and more effectively meet the needs of the people we represent,” Marl said during a lengthy interview with The Saline Post. “I think he’s innovative, creative and responsive to questions that come from community members and city council members. That doesn’t mean that improvements can’t be made. Nobody’s perfect. But overall I think he’s doing a very good job.”
The themes of integrity and professionalism was common among council members.
“A few of the reasons for my vote are Mr. Campbell's professional knowledge and experience, and his ability to lead a staff team that's dedicated to doing its best for the city. His commitment to the community is clear, and over the years he's demonstrated the ability to deal with complex challenges of very different kinds,” said Councillor Linda TerHaar, pointing to his guidance in the aftermath of the Great Recession and the US-12 project. “Mr. Campbell maintains an unfailingly courteous, professional, and constructive demeanor under all circumstances, and that reflects well on the City. The bedrock for all of this is his personal and professional integrity.”
Councillor Heidi McClelland also spoke of his integrity and work ethic.
“I want to say that my review of Todd is that he is a man of integrity, someone who works hard for the city, its residents and with this council. The environment on council has become increasingly challenging of late and I am impressed with his grace and strength in handling issues with a positive attitude and team approach. There is always room for improvement and he strives to do that at every turn,” McClelland said. “My vote in favor to renew his contract is based on his excellent work ethic, his past and present track record of service to the city and his willingness to do what it takes to continue to make Saline a great place to be.”
McClelland’s comments about the environment on council point to the increasing dissatisfaction some council members have had with the performance of Campbell and city staff.
Councillors Dillon, Mitchell and Girbach have become increasingly vigilant and doubtful of Campbell’s recommendations. During increasingly lengthy meetings, they’ve called more attention to errors that have cost the city varying amounts of money. And they’re combing carefully through issues to avoid future errors.
For now, Campbell has the support of Girbach. But it appears his support has more to do with staffing situation in city government than Campbell’s performance.
“The city is vulnerable right now due to a number of open positions. It’s crucial we reach stability at this time,” Campbell said.
The city is currently hiring an assistant city manager and an assistant DPW director.
Councillors Dillon and Mitchell were ready to go in a new direction.
“After careful and extensive review of Mr. Campbell's job performance, it’s my opinion that his employment contract with the City of Saline should not be renewed,” Dillon said. “During Mr. Campbell’s tenure as city manager he has been a part of many instrumental actions which have helped shape Saline into the community it is today. That being said, I have taken note of year over year performance deficiencies.”
Dillon spoke of an “unacceptable” lack of attention to detail, repeated costly errors and omissions, “substandard” management of department heads and staff, “insufficient” negotiation skillsets and untimely contract reviews, and a lack of succession plan.
“My focus in this decision is based upon Mr. Campbell’s lack of progress toward these and other previously identified chronic, unresolved issues which are directly impacting the City of Saline,” Dillon said.
Last year, Mitchell was the only councillor to vote against renewing Campbell’s contract.
“I appreciate Todd Campbell's dedication to our city. That being said, the continual decline in his performance measurement clearly indicates that it is time for a change,” Mitchell said.
Like Dillon, she’s concerned about costly errors.
“There are continuous issues with errors in contracts-- some costing tens of thousands of dollars. These errors across multiple contracts leave the city vulnerable to liability,” Mitchell said.
Council learned that the city’s building inspector is years behind on inspections. Recently, a building inspector went to a home to inspect a new project and, while there, asked to inspect a project that pre-dated that person’s residence in the home.
“Day-to-day issues such as permitting remain chronically in disarray. Moreover, this issue was not disclosed to the entire council in a timely matter, nor have we yet to receive a final report with all of the information regarding this issue,” Mitchell said.
Like Dillon, she’s concerned about succession planning in a city office where many employees are nearing retirement age. Both Dillon and Mitchell pushed for the city to hire a human resources manager before an assistant city manager in community development.
“Though we've had several years' warning of imminent staff retirements, this period finds the city with a number of critical positions vacant. Rather than follow the recommendations of our expensive yet valuable organizational review that instructed us to create a dedicated human resources position, the manager and several department heads are heavily involved in the hiring process for these positions, leaving less time dedicated to core responsibilities,” Mitchell said.
Since council chose to rehire Campbell, Mitchell pledged to be supportive of him.
The situation could become more difficult for Campbell next year. One of his supporters, Terhaar, is not returning to council. Another, McClelland, has not yet decided if she will run. At the same time, Campbell’s most vocal critics will not face a re-election question until November of 2020.