Manhattan City Manager Ron Fehr saw his contract renewed by city commissioners in December, though one member of the board thinks it’s time for a change in city administration.
“I have some general issues with how the city was run last year,” says Commissioner Wynn Butler.
The Commission on December 20 voted 4 to 1 to approve Fehr’s contract, with Butler the lone opponent. Fehr in 2023 will see his pay rise from about $174,000 to $192,000, a $17,000 increase that briefing documents indicate was ‘somewhat’ based on the city’s recent pay study – conducted by consultant A.G.H. L.C. out of Wichita.
Butler says a positive was the approved increase was around half of the proposed raise, but ultimately he thinks there exists a culture issue in City Hall.
“And a lot of the city employees have told me that,” Butler says. “We had a really colossal mess at Parks & Rec. which everybody is aware of – where I come from in the Army, I would have been relieved for that.
“And the animal shelter, we’ve gone through two directors in less than six months,” he says. “So something’s fundamentally wrong with our hiring process and why we can’t retain people – and it has nothing to do with pay.”
A.G.H.’s pay study recommended a variety of pay adjustments for city staff, as well as an overhaul of the city’s employment classifications and job descriptions – indicating the moves were necessary to bring Manhattan to a more competitive footing in the market. The adjustments drew a full house of employees to the city commission chambers who spoke in favor of the raises as well.
Butler, though, thinks there’s a deeper problem afoot which informed his decision to vote against Fehr’s contract. He expressed trouble in getting certain budgetary documents from administration, as one concern of his in addition to his concerns about organizational culture. Discussions in executive sessions touching on non-elected personnel matters are not privy to public consumption, though, which Butler says limits their ability to share more information.
“That’s not to say that Ron Fehr does everything incorrect,” Butler says. “I had six issues, he probably did 20 things well – but what we need him to do is all 26 well, and that’s what I’m pushing for this year.”
Butler says he provided Fehr with a number of specifics he’d like to see him focus on, though also gave the long-time manager some grace. He says the five-member commission doesn’t always provide Fehr with clear guidance, putting the administrator in a difficult position.
“Probably two going in one direction and two going in another direction, and one pinballs off depending – sometimes left, sometimes right,” says Butler. “That does make his job a little bit harder, it would be easier if he could get real definitive guidance when we have a work session.”
KMAN has reached out to Fehr for a statement on his contract, though have not heard back amid the holidays.