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Pay for new Vero manager an issue

(Week of April 28, 2011)

Choosing a new City Manager may prove easier than settling on a compensation package when the Vero Beach City Council convenes Thursday morning to select one of five outside candidates, or to decide to stick with Interim City Manager Monte Falls.

Over the past four weeks, Council members individually interviewed five men via Skype for one hour each from an upstairs City Hall conference room. The job was advertised nationally at $150,000-plus, a salary cleared with the Council prior to being publicized by Vero Beach search firm HR Dynamics.

Salary ranges tossed about in the interviews went up into the mid-$150,000s and higher -- and that’s plus health, life, retirement and auto allowance benefits for a total compensation package which could top $200,000 annually.

Former City Manager Jim Gabbard was making just under $135,000 when he retired in October after 19  years of service to the city as police chief and then five years as city manager. The higher salary comes at a time when city employees are being furloughed and the city is facing a fourth straight year of declining property taxes.

Councilman Brian Heady has said he would approve a salary of   “up to $100,000” and said he was shocked when he saw the range used to lure candidates.

Fellow council members have criticized Heady for not making his objections known earlier, but that doesn’t mean the outspoken councilman won’t fight Thursday what he now regards as a too-expensive package.

Heady’s position is the city has had a good deal with Falls performing the job on an interim basis for only an extra $6,000 per year on top of his $125,000 annual salary as public works director.  “We’ve got a guy doing the job for $500 a month,” he said.

The city has saved more than $60,000 by having Falls do double duty these past six months.

Three of the five men interviewed for the Vero job have been city managers.

One has executive experience in the corporate arena only and one has high-level utility experience, but has not yet run a municipality.

As of press time, all five were still interested in the job, and so is Falls.