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Sunshine Week: Town and city managers make top pay

  • Concord City Manager Tom Aspell Picasa



Monitor staff
Monday, March 12, 2018

In the city of Concord, with a population of about 43,000, five city employees made more than $140,000 in 2017, according to public documents.

The highest-paid employee by far is City Manager Tom Aspell, who made $192,026 in 2017, making him one of the best-compensated public employees in the state.

The next highest employee on the list in Concord was Police Lieutenant Joseph Wright, who made $171,280 in 2017 – $93,656 in regular wages and $77,624 in overtime.

As part of Sunshine Week, the Monitor reviewed Concord’s employee pay records – including the contract of its highest-paid employee – and compared them with other communities.

Aspell boosted his $169,949 salary through other compensation included in his contract. For example, each month Aspell is paid a $400 car allowance, $250 for job-related expenses, $100 for his cellphone, and $75 to maintain his computer. He’s also entitled to travel expenses, as well as membership into professional and civic organizations.

Besides monetary compensation, Aspell is granted a three-month paid sabbatical every three years after 10 years of employment as city manager.

Aspell’s five-page contract is a public document kept on file at the City Clerk’s office. The Monitor was able to review the document in person for free, but was unable to obtain an electronic copy.

By contrast, the cities of Dover and Portsmouth and the town of Durham keep the contracts with their managers online.

Other cities and towns

In Dover, with a population of about 38,000, City Manager Michael Joyal earned a salary of $150,555 last year, but his total compensation in 2016 was $197,859, higher than Aspell’s 2017 earnings. In addition to Joyal’s contract, Dover keeps the compensation of all its employees online for the public to see.

Portsmouth, a city about half the size of Concord, paid its City Manager John Bohenko a salary of $163,800, which took effect on July 1, 2017. His contract allows for additional compensation, as approved by the city council.

Concord Mayor Jim Bouley said Aspell’s compensation is based on the going rate of manager pay in other communities, as well as job performance.

Aspell declined to discuss why city managers are paid wages close to $200,000 a year.

“I don’t have any thoughts on it,” he said.

One of his peers was happy to oblige.

Town and city managers oversee complex, multimillion-dollar operations meant to meet the needs of residents, Durham Town Manager Todd Selig explained.

“It’s a nuanced and challenging profession requiring integrity, broad knowledge of municipal operations, hard work, considerable experience, and long days and nights working with municipal staff and the public,” Selig said in an email: “With ever increasing regulation and an expectation for excellence by citizens at the local level, it’s important to have talented individuals in these positions, and to attract and retain them, communities must pay competitively according to the labor market for such work.”

Durham keeps all its employee earnings online too, with a breakdown of each employee’s types of pay, including regular time, overtime, sick time, leave bonuses, longevity bonuses or stipends. The state of New Hampshire allows the public to search all employee pay at its Transparent NH website.

Compared to city and town managers, elected officials who are in charge of larger government operations rarely make as much money for their duties.

The Granite State’s top elected official – Gov. Chris Sununu – had a 2017 salary of $132,592.

In Nashua, a city of nearly 88,000 people, Mayor Jim Donchess was paid $115,625 last year.

By comparison, Selig, the manager of the town of Durham, with a population of about 15,000, made $178,852 in total compensation in 2017.

Transparency

A bill in the Legislature proposed making top municipal CEO evaluations public. That bill was killed last week.

Bouley, Concord’s mayor, said he welcomes more transparency about Aspell’s performance, but it’s not so easy. Aspell’s evaluation can include discussing other city employees, Bouley explained.

“The job performance of other employees is reflective of Tom,” Bouley said.

However, setting a series of public goals and expecting the city manager to deliver on them could be an effective way to give the public more information, Bouley said.

“The more public the process is, the better it is,” Bouley said. “I’m not looking to embarrass anyone; I would want this to be constructive.”

So far this year, the Concord City Council met twice to discuss the process of Aspell’s evaluation, and both times they went into nonpublic session to do so. Aspell’s actual annual review will occur in April.

Bouley said it was city attorney Jim Kennedy’s advice to hold the meetings behind closed doors.

“I know that doesn’t tell the public a whole lot, and I think that’s unfortunate,” Bouley said. “I think the public should know how the manager is doing.”

The Monitor reached out to Aspell to see if he would prefer his review to be held in an open session or closed meeting.

“I’ve never had any thoughts on it,” he said.

Asked about the bill making its way through the Legislature at the time to give the public more insight into the performance of top chief executive officers, Aspell again equivocated.

“I don’t have any thoughts on it,” he said.

And on the public’s interest to know how a superintendent or town manager is performing, again:

“I don’t have any thoughts on it,” he said.

The Monitor obtained the city of Concord employee compensation through a right-to-know request. The database can be accessed online at concordmonitor.com.

(Jonathan Van Fleet can be reached at 369-3303, jvanfleet@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @CMonitor_JVF.)