Tuesday evening may be most remembered in Downers Grove politics for election results that solidified outgoing Mayor Ron Sandack’s Village Council coalition. But at the night’s regularly scheduled council meeting, it was a key member of the village staff who was being scrutinized.
A motion providing a $5,000-a-year pay raise for Village Manager Dave Fieldman was unanimously passed Tuesday as a part of the council’s consent agenda. The motion also included a $10,000 bonus “for the manager’s performance in 2010,” which will be paid to Fieldman in two equal installments.
The motion did not say what Fieldman’s current salary is, although an extended and renewed employment contract dated October 2010 put his base salary at $140,000.
Five residents addressed the pay raise motion during public comments and were provided a response from Sandack in his mayor’s report.
“When I read this, I thought it was April 1; I thought it was perhaps an April Fool’s joke,” said Bill Wrobel. “It’s very unusual that during this [three-week] break you come back…and you drop a bomb like this on the taxpayers.”
Wrobel acknowledged Fieldman may deserve the raise, but said the village is in no fiscal condition to provide it. He cited upcoming collective bargaining with unions and increased overtime pay for public workers as expenses the village is already anticipating. He said his neighborhood streets have needed improvements for four years.
“You found the money [for the raise], but you can’t find the money for other important things that you de-funded because the money’s not there,” Wrobel said. “I think you could be a little more prudent with taxpayer money.”
Sandack said the village pays competitively, but its salaries, including Fieldman’s, are at the low end of competitive. He said Fieldman has done an “exemplary” job since being tapped as village manager in the tough economic climate of Fall 2008.
“It is our intent…to continue to have a stable, solid village leadership from our staff,” the mayor said. “That means treating people, and compensating them, fairly.”
Resident Gordon Goodman spoke in support of the motion. He said it would be costly and “very risky” to replace Fieldman.
“I was very pleased that the council seems to be taking an active step in keeping a good employee and making it possible for us to have good transition into a better economic time,” Goodman said.
Residents Tom LeCren and Laurel Bowen however questioned why the raise was on the consent agenda and not an action item that would get a first reading and public discussion before the vote. Other items on the April 5 consent agenda were the purchase of traffic detection camera replacements and a water distribution system valve assessment.
“The public has every right to hear the details of what our village manager has contributed to the bottom line to warrant this increase,” Bowen said.
Sandack confirmed the motion was discussed by the council in private, in keeping with the state Open Meetings Act, but was not meant to be rushed past Downers Grove residents.
“It is probably unhealthy to have a large debate about what we’re paying the village manager and invite a week or two of hearings on what we’re paying him,” Sandack said. “No village manager is going to want to endure that type of scrutiny.”
According to Sandack, the village manager and village attorney are the only two positions the council fills and oversees.
“[Fieldman’s] got seven bosses right now, and that’s tough enough, frankly,” Sandack said.