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June 14, 2011 – At a special meeting June 7, City Manager Jim Murphy made the Portola City Council an offer it did not refuse.
“The council voted on the elimination of one full-time employee and that would be me. We call it the ‘without Jim’ option,” he joked, then explained. “My salary is the highest. I am the oldest and the closest to retirement.”
Murphy had presented several options to the council members: ways to balance the upcoming budget without resorting to the rate increases currently under review by an ad hoc committee.
He said that staff had tried many different combinations of furloughs or layoffs of one or more persons.
During budget discussions in the regular session of the City Council held the following night, Murphy reviewed the reasons he saw for considering his termination or that of other employees.
“For the last three years, I’ve come to the council with a bare roots budget and every year, I think we have cut it as far as we can cut it. And I’m here again. In the 14 years I’ve been here, this is the first time we’ve ever had to address a budget with negatives almost across the board: expenditures higher than revenues in 10 funds.”
The “without Jim” option selected by the council called for the elimination of the community service officer, expecting that the city would not be receiving COPS funding from the state (that normally pays the sheriff’s contract as well as the CSO’s wages), but paying for a contract with the sheriff’s office despite loss of COPS. The proposal also called for reducing council member stipends by $100 each and reducing the city planner position to eight hours per week (augmented by another eight hours funded by grants.)
This proposal calculated a positive balance for the budget in the amount of $18,864.
However, after accepting the option, the council then re-instated the CSO position. It left reductions to the council member’s meeting stipends intact.
The amount paid to council members is set by ordinance and would require legal services and additional costs to change it. The council left the decision to donate part of their payments back to the city an individual one.
These changes to the “without Jim” option resulted in a change from the positive balance of $18,864 to a negative $58,000.
At the special meeting, the full council voted 4-1, council member Bill Weaver dissenting, to accept Murphy’s invitation to terminate his position.
In doing so, it activated the severance provision of Murphy’s employment contract, an open-ended one. Although Murphy could have quit and filed for his pension, the severance pay was hinged on city termination.
The city manager position paid $98,155, with benefits, bringing Murphy’s employment package to $142,764.
The severance portion amounts to $78,000, (which represents nine months’ salary) of which $73,000 will be paid to Murphy, the rest allocated to unpaid withholding.
In addition, Murphy is owed vacation and unpaid sick time amounting to $30,156, and bringing his exit package total to $108,189.
Murphy outlined a $34,575 savings the first year (because of the severance amount) and $142,761 savings the following year.
This of course could be offset by a potential increase in wages to the person inheriting his duties. The decision to assign the city manager responsibilities will be up for discussion at the next regular session of the council.
Leslie Tigan, who was appointed acting manager during Murphy’s recent medical leave of absence, is expected to be that person.
At the regular City Council meeting the following night, Mayor Pro Tem Juliana Mark commented, “We thank you, Jim. That was a very magnanimous decision and offer on your part. I want to set the record straight that Jim was not obligated to terminate his contract. This is huge and jobs were saved because of it.”
The audience at the council meeting responded with applause.
In an “announcement” email sent to all and sundry, Murphy looked to his retirement future: “I’m off for fun and frolic in the High Sierra, which is why I originally moved here from the ‘hustle and bustle’ of the urban environment.”
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