City's new administrator tops pay scale

Jefferson City is preparing for a new city administrator, set to start work March 10, and he comes with a price tag that exceeds his predecessors’ pay as well as that of the governor.

The current city manager in St. Marys, Ga., Steve Crowell was approved in a 9-0 closed session vote last week, with 2nd Ward Councilman Shawn Schulte not present during last week’s meeting.

Crowell will receive a starting salary of $152,000, a large increase from the two previous city administrators.

Former City Administrator Nathan Nickolaus was fired in September, with Mayor Eric Struemph saying at the time that the city needed to move in a different direction. City attorney Drew Hilpert has been serving in the interim.

Nickolaus earned a salary of $122,000 as city administrator. Former City Administrator Steve Rasmussen earned a salary of $132,500 at the time he was fired in May 2011.

Crowell’s salary also exceeds the base salary of the top official in the state — Gov. Jay Nixon’s base salary for 2013 was $133,820.

On top of Crowell’s salary, he will receive a benefits package including: an annual vehicle allowance of $7,200; an annual cellphone allowance of $900; a one-time expense of up to $22,500 for moving expenses; an annual retirement payment, on top of what he will receive in the Missouri Local Government Employees Retirement System, of $10,690; and $54,064 in “miscellaneous benefits/taxes.”

Human Resources Director Gail Strope said the “miscellaneous benefits/taxes” includes “payroll taxes and employee benefits given to all employees such as health insurance, life insurance, dental insurance, etc.”

Struemph said the increased salary for Crowell is reflective of the fact that he is a credentialed official with 30 years of experience and noted the $152,000 was within the salary range approved by the council.

Hilpert said the approved salary range was $104,637 to $156,956.

Struemph said the moving expense of up to $22,500 was because the council was unsure how much Crowell’s move would actually cost.

In St. Marys, Ga., where Crowell has been city manager since 2011, he recently had earned a 5 percent raise, approved by the St. Marys City Council in December. According to the Brunswick News, the recent raise brought his salary to $113,400.

St. Marys Mayor John Morrissey said his city definitely will miss Crowell once he moves to Jefferson City. Morrissey described Crowell as very professional, effective, open, empowering and engaging.

Morrissey said Crowell has been “a strong and guiding hand” in the budgeting process, leading to two accounting awards received by St. Marys in the last two years.

“We count ourselves fortunate to have had Steve for as long as we did, and we wish him well,” Morrissey said. “It is our loss, but it’s Jefferson City’s gain, there’s no doubt about it … You’ll find that you’ve made a wise choice.”

Before St. Marys, Crowell held the city manager position in North Port, Fla., for five years, though he and the city did not part ways in the most amicable fashion.

According to articles from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Crowell and North Port officials reached a separation agreement in October 2010, after city officials became upset about Crowell’s pursuit of manager positions in other cities. The agreement reached gave Crowell six months of his then $168,000 salary and also forgave a $200,000 home loan the city gave to Crowell when he purchased a home there. The articles also specified the agreement stated city officials were not allowed to say anything negative about Crowell.

Crowell’s experience leading to his resignation in North Port, Fla., may help explain why Jefferson City’s search was done completely behind closed doors.

Unlike many other cities, Jefferson City’s search for a new city administrator happened entirely behind closed doors. The 10-member search committee, appointed by Struemph, began meeting in November and narrowed the field of 67 applicants to 12 people to be interviewed, all behind closed doors.

The committee then invited three finalists to be interviewed in person, again behind closed doors and without any public input.

When asked about the process, 3rd Ward Councilman Bob Scrivner, who chaired the search committee, said one issue is that one of the three finalists was very concerned about confidentiality from the beginning. Though Scrivner did not specify if it was Crowell who was concerned, he said the candidate did not want to jeopardize his current position if not chosen for the job.

Scrivner also said he did not feel as if the public was not part of the process because the search committee was made up of prominent community leaders and representatives.

“I feel like the community did speak through their representatives,” Scrivner said.

Struemph said if the committee had not been so unanimously behind the recommendation of Crowell, two finalists could have been named publicly.

“There was no doubt in their eyes that (Crowell) was the guy,” Struemph said. “If we would’ve had a tie … we may have looked at doing something like that.”

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