You readers are probably aware of the phenomena called a “Friday news dump.”
For the uninitiated, it’s the tactic of waiting until late in the day on a Friday to make public things you don’t really want the public to notice. The idea being that by Friday evening, the people who would notice are in weekend mode and won’t see what’s going until it’s too late. If at all.
That seems to be what City of Minot Mayor Shaun Sipma is trying to do with a contract extension for City Manager Tom Barry.
Sipma describes those changes in a memo (PDF). He says it’s a “few minor modifications” to ensure that Barry stays on the job to pursue “the continuance of impressive results.”
I’m not sure how many people in Minot feel Mr. Barry’s “results” have been all that “impressive,” but that’s just one man’s opinion. Let’s set it aside for a moment and focus on the questions of transparency and prudent policymaking at play here.
Why the rush to add this contract change to the agenda?
Why the need to approve the changes so quickly?
Barry’s current contract doesn’t expire until August next year. Isn’t that plenty of time for public notice and discussion?
Also, the amendments are hardly minor, despite Sipma’s characterization. You can see a copy of the proposed amendments to Barry’s contract below, but they include:
- A five-year extension, the new deal would expire in 2025
- A 3 percent increase in Barry’s salary (it was $150,000 per year when he was hired, though I believe he’s received raises since then)
- A year’s salary as severance if the contract is terminated early, plus a payout of up to 300 hours worth of leave time and 240 hours worth of sick time
Committing to a new five-year contract to a city employee, one that would require paying that employee a significant amount of money if terminated early, is not a light undertaking.
Again, why the rush? Why the last-minute amendment to the agenda, and the quick turn-around on approval? “[There was] no time to get anything into the paper, and there is no way this was drafted and discussed just today,” a former member of the city government told me this evening.
I agree. The City Council routinely meets two or three times a month. There’s no need for this rush.
But remember, this same city government was just dinged by the Attorney General’s office (based on a complaint I filed) for holding a city council meeting in another city. Sipma, rather than acknowledging that the city shouldn’t be holding meetings that are inaccessible to city residents, said he was “disappointed” about the AG’s opinion.
Given that expressed attitude about public transparency, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised as Sipma trying to ram these contract changes through with little public notice or scrutiny.
As a resident of Minot, I am not at all impressed with Mr. Barry’s job performance. I know many others agree with me. That may not be enough reason to deny him these modifications to his contract, but at the very least, shouldn’t we give his job performance some real scrutiny before the city is saddled with him for another half-decade?
The city government has some major trust issues with the citizens of Minot. Whether it’s the recent open meeting violation, or the downtown gathering space debacle, or the Sipma and Barry’s trip to Norway that was of dubious benefit to the public, or the on-going eyesore that is the downtown parking garages, what Minot’s leaders need to be doing now is building trust.
Jamming through significant changes to the city manager’s contract, while describing them as “minor,” is not how you build trust.
Here are the proposed changes: