Chief’s pay puts Monroe in bind

MONROE — For six months, Tim Quenzer has come to work and done two jobs — police chief and city administrator.

He has two separate desks, one in the police department and one next door in City Hall. He sometimes works 15 hours a day.

What he doesn’t have is two paychecks.

The City Council is considering giving Quenzer a $4,000-a-month pay bump and back pay on top of the $123,228 he already receives. If he worked 12 months, he’d earn about $171,000. That means Quenzer would make more than County Executive Aaron Reardon — $147,000 — and Gov. Chris Gregoire — $166,891.

In tough economic times, that isn’t sitting well among other city employees.

The city, which has about 16,500 residents, is struggling to keep enough cash on hand to pay its bills. It’s already asked all city employees to take two unpaid days. It’s laid off employees and left other positions unfilled, including positions in the police department.

“There are some officers that have expressed concern,” said Spencer Robinson, the president of the Monroe Police Officers Guild.

Robinson said he hasn’t spoken with the entire guild. The officers who raised concerns questioned whether it was right for the chief to take a pay bump while asking the employees he manages to work with less equipment, training and pay.

“It’s not unreasonable for an executive performing two executive functions to receive compensation,” Robinson said. “It’s not inappropriate for him to ask. It’s just a difficult position.”

Finding a new city administrator and paying him would cost the city far more than paying Quenzer to do two jobs, mayor Donnetta Walser said.

“At this point we are taking advantage of him,” she said. “He’s assumed a lot of responsibilities. To me, it’s the fair thing to do.”

Just how did the city get in this pickle?

In December, the City Council agreed to fire its previous city administrator, Jim Southworth. No explanation was ever given publicly for his termination.

That decision left the city in a bind. As part of Southworth’s severance package, the city agreed to continue paying his salary for nine months — nearly $10,000 a month.

The city was in no shape to pay the salary of a new city administrator, too, so the city tapped Quenzer, its police chief, to temporarily serve as the city’s top decision maker.

That move saved the city an expensive search process that could run into the thousands, Walser said. Quenzer, by all accounts an effective and experienced manager, could step seamlessly into the position. Plus, the city had to pay only one set of benefits and could forgo the $80 an hour a city administrator typically gets paid — at least for a time.

The City Council decided in January to keep Quenzer on double-duty until October without extra pay. Quenzer told the council at a recent meeting that he expected something different from the arrangement.

“I’ll be upfront,” Quenzer said. “When this first came out, I thought I was going to be compensated and I thought it would be for three months.”

He said he was surprised when he learned he was being committed to work until October.

“That kind of took me back,” he said. “That wasn’t what I planned on.”

Now it appears the arrangement could even last longer. The mayor and the council talked about possibly extending the arrangement until after the November election.

At a recent meeting, the council praised Quenzer for his smooth handling of city businesses, but agonized over how the city could afford to give out a big pay raise.

Councilwoman Margie Rodriquez told Quenzer and the deputy police chief they deserved the money. But the pay raise is enough to pay the salary of a laid-off employee, and she has to put herself in that person’s shoes.

“How do we justify this to people who have lost their jobs?” she asked.

The city already has money budgeted that could be used for the pay raise for Quenzer, Walser said. The money would come from the remaining three months of salary budgeted for the previous city administrator, she said.

The council is considering giving the deputy police chief, Cherie Harris, a 10 percent pay raise because she has taken over handling negotiating for the city with unions. The city would have normally hired an attorney for a premium to perform those duties, the mayor said.

Debra Smith: 425-339-3197, dsmith@heraldnet.com.

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