Conard’s salary boost questioned

Residents grilled the Coupeville Town Council Tuesday evening about a proposal to double Mayor Nancy Conard’s salary.

After nearly two hours of public comment, the council unanimously approved the raise. Dianne Binder, Molly Hughes, Bob Clay and Jim Phay voted for the plan. Council member Marshall Bronson didn’t attend the meeting.

Conard was earning $29,006 for 20 hours of duties as mayor and town administrator. Under the new arrangement, she will work 40 hours a week and earn $58,012 a year, which is the same salary as the Town Marshal and Public Works Director.

Despite the unanimous approval, several residents were critical of Conard’s raise.

Jerome Rosen questioned whether the town considered a competitive process to find a full-time administrator.

“It has the appearance that the mayor is taking on a new job and expanded her responsibilities,” Rosen said. “It seems she consolidated duties from other people on the payroll.”

Council members were quick to defend the raise.

“We’re simply paying her for the work she is already doing,” Binder said.

Molly Hughes echoed her statement. “It’s the same duty that she is doing.”

Conard has been paid for working 20 hours a week since 2002. She has said that she’s been working full-time in recent months and wanted her salary to reflect the hours worked. Council members were pleased with Conard’s qualifications and her performance as mayor.

“If we didn’t have this particular mayor, we wouldn’t be talking about this,” Clay said.

Some people felt that even though Conard seems to be doing a good job, she shouldn’t be working as mayor and administrator.

“I don’t think you should be doing both jobs,” said Betty Gewald. “I don’t think there’s enough checks and balances to do both.”

She added, “You are good at both jobs but you can’t do both.”

Coupeville resident Buell Niedlinger donned a crown, lined with mock dollar bills, and criticized the growth of Conard’s salary over the past several years. He also pointed out the salary doesn’t include the benefits Conard would receive.

“A lot of people in town feel you are making a queen-dom for yourself,” Niedlinger said. He wanted to see proof there is a need for a town manager and applications sought for experienced administrators.

After he finished speaking, another resident questioned the updated plan for administration which the council approved last month. That plan, which outlines how the mayor will administer and staff the town, was supposed to have been approved after Conard’s re-election two years ago.

“I have a really hard time seeing how that could be an oversight,” said Toni Piazzon. “If you are in a corporation or private business, you are not going to get away with that.”

Clay admitted the town made a mistake in delaying approval of an updated plan.

He said the public’s ability to vote for a mayor provides the checks and balances for her position. Incidentally, Conard ran unopposed in the November, 2003 general election.

Rosen said, because Conard is entrenched in her position as mayor, potential candidates may be intimidated to run for her office. He suggested the town council consider term limits.

Tuesday’s decision culminates several months of comments about the mayor’s salary. Several residents expressed concerns late last year during a budget hearing. They questioned a $33,000 addition to the salaries doled out to administrators. The questions continued during meetings last month when the council approved the updated plan of administration and the first reading of the plan to increase Conard’s hours.

Fifteen people attended the Tuesday evening Town Council meeting.

Several audience members accused council members of “rubber stamping” Conard’s raise and not taking into account resident’s concerns. Members of the council defended their actions.

“I’m extremely concerned that the people who attend these meetings feel that the council doesn’t listen to what they have to say,” Clay said.

He added the council will re-examine the mayor’s salary and job duties after the next mayoral election, when a new plan for administration is supposed to be presented to the Town Council.

“We’re going to try it for two years and see how it goes,” Clay said.

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