Note: This story was updated at 10:10 a.m. Nov. 12.
After two attempts to give him smaller raises failed, the Oak Ridge City Council voted 4-3 on Monday to award City Manager Mark Watson a 10 percent salary increase.
Council rejected two separate proposals to lower the pay raise to 4 percent and 1 percent, the same salary hike given to other city employees this year.
The 10 percent increase raises Watson’s pay from just under $137,000 to $150,321.60, and it is effective Aug. 8, 2013.
The salary boost, which has generated much opposition online, had been recommended by a three-member City Manager Evaluation Committee. The committee had compared Watson’s pay to other city managers across Tennessee and in other U.S. Department of Energy cities. The recommended raise would keep Watson’s pay competitive, and it was based on his performance during his three years in Oak Ridge and evaluations by the seven City Council members, committee chair Chuck Hope said.
“This increase is absolutely deserved and is in the best interests of the citizens of Oak Ridge,” said Jane Miller, vice mayor and a committee member. “We don’t want to lose Mark. Good city managers are hard to find.”
She said Watson had not asked for the increase and had not threatened to leave Oak Ridge if he did not get it. Miller said Oak Ridge is on the brink of reaping rewards from developments at Woodland Town Center, the Kroger Marketplace shopping center, the redevelopment of the Oak Ridge Mall, and Jackson Square improvements.
“Did he do all this alone? Of course not,” Miller said. “He had help and there is plenty of credit to go around, but Mark is the leader—and he is quick to give others the credit.”
In a statement, Miller said Watson has also revamped the Oak Ridge Police Department by hiring and supporting Chief Jim Akagi, solving a major city problem. (You can download the statement here.)
Still, a few residents and former city employees spoke against the raise. They generally acknowledged that Watson has performed well, but they said some city employees are collecting food stamps and other public assistance, such as free and reduced lunches for their children.
“I believe that this is sending a bad message to staff,” said Donna Sullivan, owner of Hot Bagel Co.
It’s the principle of giving one city employee 10 times as much as the others, said retired fire captain Bill Henry. He asked Council to give the same salary consideration to the other city employees.
Voting in favor of the increase were Hope and Miller, and Oak Ridge Mayor Tom Beehan and Council member Charlie Hensley.
They said the city has made significant progress during the past three years. A few, including Beehan, said Watson is the best city manager with whom they’ve worked.
“Mark is by far the most successful and willing to take risks, and he’s been aggressive with new ideas,” Hensley said.
Voting against the increase were Council members Trina Baughn, Anne Garcia Garland, and David Mosby.
Mosby said it wasn’t clear to him how the raise would be funded, and he unsuccessfully proposed a smaller 4 percent increase.
“i just think 4 percent is a little more than reasonable,” Mosby said. “It’s significantly more than what other city employees received.”
Baughn said revenues have dropped and spending is up under Watson.
“If we truly wanted to be fair, we would look at cutting your salary,” she said before unsuccessfully proposing a 1 percent increase. “You are compensated quite well for this position that you are in.”
More information will be added as it becomes available.