The City Commission is scheduled to vote on Tuesday, June 5, 2007 on the Contract with the new City Manager designee. But a complete contract has not been worked out. The most important item, salary, has not been agreed to. The City's chief negotiator, Commissioner Bethel, has offered the lowest part of the salary range, $165,000, and the proposed City Manager wants $180,000. The parties are $25,000 apart.
What kind of "negotiation" did Bethel do? Sounds like slim to none to us. According to Bethel's letter of May 31, 2007 to the City Commission, he had "several conversations [presumably by phone] and a [meaning one] meeting with Scholl."
In fairness to Bethel, he notes that "he only gathered information for presentation to the Commission" and that he has "not rejected any options available to Mr. Scholl."
But it sounds like $165,000 was Bethel's first and last offer (since the Commission authorized a minimum of $165,000). According to his letter to the Commission, Bethel says he told Scholl at their meeting that he could not "support or justify any starting salary except $165,000." If that's the way it went, while that may look like tough negotiation, it is really not the give and take of negotiation on the salary at all, since, at least with Bethel, there was no room for agreement on another number. What is worse is that the tactic is also positional bargaining, which is the worst kind of bargaining when you are trying to make a deal. What Bethel did, in essence, was to put the whole matter of coming to an agreement on the essential provision of the contract back in the lap of the City Commission.
In support of his position on the salary, Bethel makes the argument that "Mr. Scholl has absolutely no experience in local government."
That may be a moot point, since the Commission knew that when they chose Scholl as their number one candidate. As far as we know, their number two candidate is also a similarly situated person in that regard. If local government experience was the sticking point, then a person with local government experience should have been the first choice of the Commissioners. He was not.
Moreover, Mr. Scholl's Navy administrative and management experience has included dealing with local government, including the likes of these Key West Commissioners. And Scholl's federal responsibilities were awesome compared to those of a Key West City Manager. So it seems to us that Bethel's argument doesn't hold much water and is not the result of a serious look at the interests of each side. He can do better.
We realize Bethel has to keep his rep as a fiscal conservative, but he seems to be playing a game of "salary chicken" here. Will the City blink or will Scholl blink? If the game continues, win or lose, there will be hard feelings and perhaps an unwise less durable agreement. Besides, the negotiation with the new City Manager is not, we hope, about winning. It is about problem solving.
There has got to be a place of compromise somewhere between the two positions. Perhaps the parties can find ways to expand the pie and find desired value in non-monetary options. Also, there is often value in difference. Creating it is what smart seasoned negotiators do all the time. Perhaps the parties may want to think about the possibility of deferred value. Are there things the Commission can agree to implement later that will have equivalent or greater value than what is presently desired by Mr. Scholl?
It seems to us that there is much negotiation left to be done and that Commissioner Bethel's efforts have barely scratched the surface. $25,000 is not a very big gap between the parties as gaps go. Closing that gap should not be hard. That Scholl did not insist on the top of the salary range is significant and indicates a willingness to compromise. But the City should not read that willingness as a sign of weakness. That would be a grave mistake. We fear that's how the Commission may see it, however.
It is in the interest of the City to compromise. Will they? How the Commissioners handle this negotiation will likely set the tone for their relationship with the new City Manager. The Commissioners in their ego-driven zeal forget that they are not in the driver's seat on this one. Mr. Scholl does not need this job. He lives up the Keys where it is cheaper than Key West and has his Navy retirement to fall back on. The City needs a City Manager. Will the City Commissioners be penny wise and pound stupid here? The voters should watch and stick it to them in November if the Commissioners botch this one. What is about to unfold will likely be pure politics and coupled with a good deal of grandstanding.
Absent from this episode will be the Commissioner whose district includes Truman Annex, Bill Verge. He will be on vacation. He has asked the Commission to delay its consideration of the annexation of Christmas Tree Island (Wisteria Island) because of his vacation. Does he have his priorities straight? Isn't choosing a City Manager more important than Christmas Tree Island? Did he ask the Commission to postpone the vote on the City Manager? Shouldn't all the Commissioners and the Mayor be present for that vote? We think so.
If the vote on the City Manager's salary issue were to be put off, it would give the City time to re-think its negotiating stance and allow the parties a chance to back away from their positional bargaining; maybe even reach a compromise. Wouldn't that be something to cheer about?