Make a choice about police chief’s pay, Monroe mayor tells council

MONROE — Mayor Donnetta Walser gave Monroe city leaders a choice Tuesday: Give the police chief a raise or hire somebody else to run City Hall.

Since January, Police Chief Tim Quenzer has worked two jobs for one paycheck. He agreed to do so to help the city avoid paying thousands of dollars to hire a new city administrator after it fired its previous one.

It put city leaders in an uncomfortable position when the police chief in June asked for a $4,000 pay raise plus back pay in the midst of a city budget crisis. That would be on top of the $123,228 he already receives.

Even with the pay hike, the mayor argued the city would still be spending less than if it had to bring in a new city administrator.

“I’m giving you a choice,” Walser said to the council Tuesday. “This was a budget issue and I didn’t expect it to become a political issue. It’s been disruptive to the city.”

City council members didn’t come to a decision about that problem Tuesday night. They did have a frank talk that ended with the police chief’s wife crying in the audience.

Since the issue became public, Quenzer said his family has received “personal attacks.” He told the council he never expected the job to last as long as it has. The mayor had told him he would eventually get paid for his troubles once the city found some extra cash.

The public scrutiny has been hard on his family, Quenzer said, fighting back tears.

“To be quite frank, I would love to be sitting back in the city police chief’s office and not worrying about what’s happening in City Hall,” he told the council. “My goal in volunteering in the first place was to help the city get out of the financial mess they are in.”

City Council members said they remembered the discussion differently. They thought Quenzer was stepping up to help for free and he was fine serving for nine months.

Monroe, which has about 16,500 residents, is in the midst of serious budget trouble. When Quenzer took the job in January, the city was nearly a million dollars in the hole. The City Council didn’t have the cash to hire a new person to run City Hall after it fired its previous city administrator and had to pay him nine months of salary and benefits.

Quenzer said the challenge of trimming the city’s budget is one of the reasons he wanted to take the job.

At the meeting, the council praised Quenzer for his adept handling of city business. He instigated a weekly budget meeting with city department heads and helped shepherd a series of cutbacks that included two furlough days for all city employees, layoffs and leaving positions unfilled. Today, the city budget is about $87,000 short, the mayor said.

Quenzer said he had to give up a consulting job with the Department of Homeland Security. The contract work made up about a third of his total income and was done on his time off.

This is a make-or-break issue that could distract the council for months, Councilman David Kennedy said. The council is made up of barely paid elected officials who are doing their best with “spit and chewing gum” to put together solutions, he said.

The city is taking advantage of Quenzer and the council ought to step up and make reparations to him, Kennedy said.

“This was handled really poorly,” he said.

The conversation took place in the midst of an update of the city’s budget. The city invited Greg Prothman, president of an executive search firm, to let the city know how much a city administrator search would cost.

Prothman said it would take at least three months and costs about $30,000 to find a new administrator. His firm could place an interim administrator in two weeks. There’s no search fee, but the company is paid $20 an hour for every hour the interim administrator works.

The mayor said her political foes seized on the issue and are using it as a political weapon in an election year. She didn’t name any names, but Councilman Mitch Ruth is running for her mayor seat. He said he supports the chief but doesn’t support a big pay hike. He blasted the mayor on a forum on The Herald’s Web site for the pay proposal and for the “unbearably dysfunctional” relationship that got the previous city administrator, Jim Southworth, fired in late December.

Walser said by taking on the work of city administrator and other duties, the police chief has saved Monroe hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“There’s some political backlash that’s becoming very intolerable and a lot of misunderstanding,” Walser said. “The bottom line is he’s saved the city $250,000 by what he’s doing.”

Councilwoman Margie Rodriquez apologized to the chief for placing him in a difficult position. She said the council wasn’t necessarily opposed to giving him a pay raise, but council members didn’t understand how the mayor and Quenzer had arrived at the sum of $4,000 a month.

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