After months of playing nice, City Councilor Tonita Gurule-Giron and Mayor Alfonso Ortiz took off the gloves Wednesday and traded verbal barbs over the apparent automatic extension of the city manager’s contract.
The exchange occurred toward the end of a nearly three-hour City Council meeting when Gurule-Giron asked for the status of Timothy Dodge’s contract.
Ortiz reminded the Council that he had previously informed them of his intent to recommend Dodge’s continued employment.
“There was a deadline, and the deadline has already expired (for notifying the city manager that his contract wouldn’t be renewed), so technically, Mr. Dodge has a two-year contract already,” Ortiz said, sparking outrage from Gurule-Giron, who called the situation unacceptable.
Ortiz is also planning to ask the Council for a $30,000 pay raise for Dodge in the near future, although he did not bring that up during Wednesday night’s Council meeting.
City Attorney Dave Romero’s contract also automatically renewed for another year, but it was Dodge’s contract that took center stage.
At one point, Dodge said he is still willing to negotiate a contract with the council, though his statement came after Gurule-Giron and Ortiz’s heated exchange. The other city councilors remained quiet as the insults flew.
“It was your responsibility. I’m telling you it was your responsibility...,” a visibly upset Gurule-Giron told the mayor, her voice raised.
“You let the entire Council down. You let the entire constituency down. I went out of my way to provide a fair and equitable evaluation for Mr. Dodge, and here today you are telling us that because of your failure to address a technicality, we have given him another two-year contract, which I don’t agree with...”
“I have so little regard for your opinion...” the mayor responded.
“Obviously, you have little regard for the entire Council,” Gurule-Giron fired back. “You dropped the ball. You failed to do your job, Mr. Mayor. Que vergüenza. Esa es una vergüenza.” (What a shame! That’s a shame.)
Gurule-Giron later apologized, but she said the automatic renewal was unfair to the council and to the constituents.
Ortiz told Dodge he appreciates his willingness to negotiate the contract as opposed to getting it on a technicality.
“Those contracts that were made last time had that provision (automatic renewal),” he said. “Future contracts that I’m going to be issuing will not have that provision that was in there.”
Dodge’s contract was set to expire at the end of this month. But a clause in the document states that the intent is to renew the contract for another two years with the consent of the parties. Another clause in the contract states that the governing body was required to have given Dodge notice of non-renewal by Jan. 31. If the governing body were to decide not to extend the contract without having notified Dodge by Jan. 31, he would be entitled to four months of severance pay, or $31,666. Another provision in Dodge’s contract states that if he is terminated without cause, the Council would owe him six months salary.
The mayor did inform the Council at a January meeting that his intent was to renew Dodge’s contract, but it’s unclear whether he notified councilors that they had until Jan. 31 to provide notice of non-renewal.
Dodge told the council he is still open to negotiations.
“Let’s sit down and talk,” he said. “Let’s not get all upset and get out of control with each other. Let’s work together.”
The majority of the governing body members appear to be happy overall with Dodge’s work, making it unlikely that his contract would not be renewed. Indeed, even Gurule-Giron told Dodge that she has no problem working with Dodge on a year-to-year contract. She said she is opposed to a two-year contract.
She also told the city manager that she has seen growth in his performance, particularly in his working relationships with the Council, and herself specifically.
The mayor’s announcement that Dodge’s contract had automatically renewed comes on the heels of an evaluation process undertaken by the governing body with input from others.
On Thursday morning, Ortiz told the Optic that Dodge generally received high marks from the nine people who evaluated him.
“Overall, the evaluation was about as good as it can get,” he said.
Ortiz also revealed that he plans to ask the Council to raise Dodge’s salary, which is currently $95,000. Ortiz said he surveyed other administrators in this area and city managers from other cities. According to Ortiz, Dodge is paid less than the two local school superintendents, the county manager, and the presidents of Luna Community College. He also cited salaries for other city managers around the state, saying that Bloomfield’s is paid $132,000, Alamogordo’s gets $130,000, Española’s makes $139,000, Portales’ gets $101,000 and Hobbs’ earns between $140,000 and $150,000.
Ortiz said Dodge’s salary is $95,000. Dodge hasn’t received a raise in four years, even though his contract states he is eligible for raises of between 1 and 5 percent each year.
Ortiz said he would be asking the council to set Dodge’s salary at $125,000 a year, which would be a nearly 32 percent increase. Ortiz praised Dodge, saying he was second to no other city manager in the state. He also noted that Dodge oversees an organization that has 275 to 300 employees, and he is ultimately responsible for everything from the budget to city utilities.
“Our manager is underpaid,” Ortiz said, adding that Dodge has never complained about his salary.
Ortiz said he will ask the Council to approve the raise and sign off on a two-year contract.
He said it will be up to the Council to decide whether to approve the raise and the contract length, given that Dodge has indicated his willingness to negotiate.
As for the city attorney’s contract, Dodge took full responsibility for allowing it to renew automatically. Dodge said the city clerk informed him that action on the contract was needed, but he said he thought the clerk was mistaken because Dodge was under the impression that Romero’s contract expired when his own contract expired.
Dodge said he later realized that he was mistaken, but by then the contract had automatically renewed for another year. He said the renewal happened in January.
“I though she was incorrect, and I was the one who was actually wrong,” he said.
Dodge said that only the city manager, city clerk, police chief and city attorney have contracts.
Dodge has been the Las Vegas city manager for about four years. He said the contract has been a big factor in how effective he has been, explaining that with a contract an administrator can make politically unpopular decisions without having to worry that he could lose his job over it.