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INDEPENDENCE — In a surprise move Jan. 4, Independence City Manager Tom Pessemier rejected a proposed salary bonus approved in a split vote by the Independence City Council at their Dec. 22 meeting.

In a letter to the council and Mayor John McArdle, Pessemier turned down the offer of an additional 2.2% compensation on top of a 5% annual salary increase, pending positive council reviews, and a 2.8% COLA increase as part of his annual evaluation results.

Pessemier wrote he expected going into the council’s Dec. 22 meeting to receive an increase at the same level as management staff in the city and appreciated the consideration of additional compensation. However, he agreed with comments regarding the timing of additional increases.

“Every city manager serves multiple groups and it is clear to me that during these difficult times there are many that are struggling to pay their bills or keep their business open,” Pessemier wrote. “I also believe that the compensation structure that management staff receives is fair and I do not expect to receive more. With these principles in mind, my wife and I have decided to turn-down the offer of the additional 2.2% compensation offered to us.”

The additional 2.2% salary bonus was proposed by councilors Marilyn Morton and Michael Hicks as part of package following a positive annual performance review. Morton said the council has the authority to recommend a one-time extra salary increase. She explained they chose to add the bonus to reflect Pessemier’s leadership getting the city of Independence through the pandemic.

“We picked that because when added to anticipated COLA raise, for all managers is 2.8%. It comes to a solid 10% for the coming year,” Morton said.

“It sums up our appreciation and solid commitment to Tom to remain with us,” Hicks added.

Morton explained the proposed bonuses were on par throughout the Willamette Valley, which feature “some of the most lucrative payments for city managers.”

However, the additional bonus did not sit well with councilors Kathy Martin-Willis and Shannon Corr. Both voted against the addition bonus, citing poor timing during the ongoing pandemic.

“On principle, I don’t necessarily disagree with the increase. But we’re also looking at a year of potential reduced revenues. It’s not Tom’s fault, Just like when we make difficult decisions the public doesn’t understand, at times we need to make difficult decisions when it comes to things we like to do,” Martin-Willis explained. “I don’t completely understand the need to move this up to 10%.”

Corr agreed Pessemier performed well during trying times, but to her, it was a sensitivity issue.

“Tom went above and beyond this year. He didn’t walk into this job knowing COVID was going to hit. Staff has been unbelievably flexible and responsible,” Corr said. “It’s a sensitivity issue here.” 

In support of Pessemier, Councilor Tom Takacs commented, “This may not be best place to be saving pennies.”

The council unanimously approved the 5% raise and additional COLA of 2.8%, bringing Pessemier’s salary increase to 7.8% for 2021. In a separate vote, Martin-Willis and Corr voted against the 2.2% bonus, while Morton, Hicks and Takacs approved the increase. Because Councilor Jennifer Ranstrom-Smith was absent from the meeting, she was recorded as a “no” vote, giving the tying vote to McArdle.

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