Fort Collins City Council approved 2020 salary increases between 3% and 4.5% for the city manager, city attorney and chief judge.
City attorney Carrie Daggett got a 3% raise, bringing her annual base salary from $200,087 to $206,090. That’s just above the 50th percentile for city attorney pay in a group of 17 peer cities assembled by a council ad hoc committee.
Council unanimously approved Daggett’s raise, praising her efficient and innovative leadership in the city attorney’s office.
Chief Judge Kathleen Lane got the biggest raise, percentage-wise, because an ad hoc council committee assembled to research judge salaries at Fort Collins’ peer cities found her 2019 base pay was in the 25th percentile. Council unanimously voted to raise her pay 4.5%, from $116,519 to $121,762, noting Lane’s 30-year tenure overseeing Fort Collins’ municipal court.
The judge position is a 0.75-full-time-equivalent position. Fort Collins has started the process of hiring a new judge in preparation for Lane’s retirement this summer.
The 3% raise awarded to city manager Darin Atteberry was the only non-unanimous vote. Atteberry’s 2019 pay of $270,364 was just below the 75th percentile among city managers at 20 comparable cities. The raise brought his base pay to $278,475, just above the 75th percentile.
Council member Ross Cunniff said he didn’t think Atteberry should get a raise because his pay is already “out of whack” compared to other city managers. And he cited communication issues between city staff and council in recent months, one being the early stage proposal for a homeless services campus in north Fort Collins that proceeded without council knowledge or approval.
Council member Emily Gorgol countered that keeping Atteberry’s salary flat isn’t a logical way to get it closer to the average for city manager because it would take many consecutive years without raises to get there.
Council member Julie Pignataro supported a more modest 2% raise for the city manager because of unspecified performance issues discussed during council’s review of Atteberry. Council decides base pay for the city manager, attorney and chief judge – its only direct reports – following performance reviews in executive session.
The rest of council said Atteberry deserves a raise because of his skillful leadership and ability to listen and work with changing councils. Fort Collins municipal government is manager-council style, meaning the city manager takes the lead on day-to-day operations with direction and oversight from an ever-changing council.
Council members said Fort Collins’ city manager role is unique because the city now operates five utilities, with Connexion broadband service as the most recent addition. Fort Collins is also a regular on “best cities” lists and in 2017 won the prestigious Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award, the highest presidential honor for business performance and a rare feat for municipalities.
Mayor pro-tem Kristin Stephens, who was on the ad hoc committee that researched city manager salaries nationwide, said they revamped the list of peer cities this year to include communities with similar successes and accolades, demographics and philosophies on things like open space. For city manager salaries, council looked at cities including Austin, Boulder, Sacramento and Oklahoma City.
“We really wanted as much as possible to be comparing apples to apples here,” she said. “We want to be competing with the best cities in the country, and we feel like in many ways we are.”
In addition to their base pay, the city manager, chief judge and city attorney receive retirement benefits, vacation and holiday time, bonuses and car allowances.
Jacy Marmaduke covers government accountability for the Coloradoan. Follow her on Twitter @jacymarmaduke. Support stories like this one with a digital subscription to the Coloradoan.
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