Coun­cil Dou­bles Mayor’s Salary


Washington County Enterprise-Leader - - FRONT PAGE - By Lynn Kut­ter

FARM­ING­TON — The City Coun­cil voted 6-2 Mon­day night to in­crease the mayor’s salary from $36,000 to $72,000, ef­fec­tive Jan. 1, 2019.

Mayor Ernie Penn, who rec­om­mended the in­crease, said he was ask­ing the coun­cil to ap­prove a res­o­lu­tion for the new salary at its Septem­ber meet­ing so he could give his em­ployer, Ar­vest Bank, 90 days’ no­tice of his plan to re­sign. Penn has worked for Ar­vest 42 years.

Penn said he plans to serve the city as a full-time mayor.

The vote fol­lowed more than 90 min­utes of dis­cus­sion, which in­cluded Penn’s open­ing state­ment out­lin­ing the rea­son for the salary in­crease, com­ments by each coun­cil member and pub­lic com­ment.

Coun­cil mem­bers Patsy Pike, Sherry Mathews, Keith Lip­ford, Brenda Cun­ning­ham, Bobby Mor­gan and Shelly Pars­ley voted for the new salary. Mem­bers Linda Bell and Diane Bryant voted against it.

Coun­cil mem­bers and the pub­lic gen­er­ally sup­ported the mayor and the res­o­lu­tion, but sev­eral peo­ple ques­tioned the amount of the in­crease, the po­ten­tial re­dun­dancy of also hav­ing a busi­ness man­ager and the tim­ing of the re­quest.

Many in the meet­ing spoke in sup­port of Penn and what he has done for the city. De­part­ment heads and staff also came to the podium in sup­port of Penn and how it would help the city to have him avail­able full time at City Hall.

Penn, in ad­dress­ing the coun­cil and those at the meet­ing, said he doesn’t think peo­ple re­al­ize how much of his time is taken up with city mat­ters and is­sues. The mayor’s po­si­tion is 24 hours, seven days a week, Penn said.

“My work­load at the city is to the point I can­not bal­ance two full-time jobs,” he said.

The city has been for­tu­nate that Ar­vest Bank al­lows him the time to con­duct his may­oral du­ties, Penn said. Many times, ci­ti­zens stop by to talk to him at the bank, call him, text him or email him.

“I don’t think any­one un­der­stands the hours I’m work­ing for the city,” he added.

Penn sup­ported his re­quest for a $72,000 an­nual salary by say­ing he has 16 years of ex­pe­ri­ence as mayor and has brought fi­nan­cial sta­bil­ity to the city and lead­er­ship of which the city can be proud. City ser­vices have grown dur­ing his ten­ure, along with a new li­brary, ball­park, res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial growth and land gifts.

Fu­ture projects in­clude a new pub­lic works build­ing and ma­jor im­prove­ments to Creek­side Park.

Coun­cil member Patsy Pike told the mayor, “You have done what you were sup­posed to do, so I agree to the $72,000.”

Sherry Mathews ac­knowl­edged she’s been one of the peo­ple who went to Ar­vest Bank to talk to Penn about city mat­ters.

“I feel like he’s al­ready a full-time mayor, and I feel like we should ac­knowl­edge this,” Mathews said.

Coun­cil member Brenda Cun­ning­ham, whose hus­band is Fire Chief Mark Cun­ning­ham, said she un­der­stands be­ing on call con­tin­u­ously. She said she at­trib­uted a lot of the city’s fi­nan­cial sta­bil­ity to Penn’s lead­er­ship. Cun­ning­ham gave Penn one ex­pec­ta­tion: “I do want to see you work harder if you get this.”

Four coun­cil mem­bers — Keith Lip­ford, Linda Bell, Bobby Mor­gan and Diane Bryant — said they had some con­cerns about the salary in­crease.

Lip­ford said he has man­aged bud­gets dur­ing his ca­reer and was look­ing at the salary in­crease from a busi­ness per­spec­tive. He said he was not clear on what the city would be getting for the in­crease.

“What am I getting for the city that is worth $36,000?” he said.

Both Bell and Bryant ques­tioned why a city the size of Farm­ing­ton would need both a full-time city busi­ness man­ager, Melissa McCarville, and full-time mayor. Bell said her re­search through Arkansas Mu­nic­i­pal League showed cities usu­ally don’t have both un­til their pop­u­la­tions had reached 50,000 to 60,000.

“To spend $200,000 to run a city this size just doesn’t make good fi­nan­cial sense,” Bell said.

Mor­gan said it both­ered him that Penn waited to make his re­quest un­til af­ter the dead­line to file to run for mayor. Some ci­ti­zens may have been in­ter­ested in run­ning for of­fice if they had known the job paid $72,000, he said.

Bryant said she pre­ferred the res­o­lu­tion show the po­si­tion would be full time and also that it in­clude the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of the job.

Sev­eral peo­ple in the au­di­ence thanked Penn for help­ing them with a prob­lem.

Engineer Jeff Bates of Farm­ing­ton has worked with the city on many projects. Bates pointed out McCarville and Penn do “two com­pletely dif­fer­ent things” at the city. There are times, Bates said, McCarville has to de­fer de­ci­sions to Penn.

“It hurts us hav­ing to de­lay every­thing,” he said.

Res­i­dent Christy Wat­son said, “Melissa does her job fab­u­lously, but there’s so much more he does for the city. He puts into this city over and over.”

Build­ing of­fi­cial Rick Bra­mall, who’s from Spring­dale, said go­ing from $36,000 to $72,000 may seem like a lot, but the coun­cil should look at the value of the mayor.

McCarville said a lot of re­spon­si­bil­i­ties fall to her as city busi­ness man­ager, such as plan­ning and work to as­sist en­gi­neers. She has taken over the fi­nan­cial side of the city, which in­cludes pay­roll, pay­ing bills, rec­on­cil­i­a­tion of ac­counts and keep­ing track of the bud­get.

“There are plenty of du­ties to do,” McCarville said, adding she would like to pass off all the fi­nan­cial work to Penn, who has years of ex­pe­ri­ence in that area.

Lip­ford said af­ter the pub­lic com­ment that he did not want any­one from the com­mu­nity to think coun­cil mem­bers ques­tioned Penn’s job as mayor.

“We all think he’s done a good job,” Lip­ford said. “I think the coun­cil has done a good job. I’m a busi­ness guy and I deal with busi­ness things.”

Lip­ford pointed out it’s the coun­cil’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to dis­cuss is­sues.

“If we weren’t here hav­ing a dis­cus­sion about the pros and cons, then you need to get rid of all of us,” he said.

Penn said as mayor he’s chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of the city. The city pays for the ex­pe­ri­ence and knowl­edge and what it will get for its money, he said.

“It’s up to the City Coun­cil to de­ter­mine what you think it’s worth,” he said.

City or­di­nance 2014-16 sets the salary for the of­fice of mayor at $36,000-$72,000. Penn has been paid $36,000 for the past four years. Penn will not re­ceive health in­sur­ance ben­e­fits be­cause the Arkansas Mu­nic­i­pal League does not pro­vide health in­sur­ance for elected of­fi­cials who are over 65 years of age. Penn turns 65 in Novem­ber. He will re­ceive re­tire­ment ben­e­fits, along with other city elected of­fi­cials.


Farm­ing­ton City Coun­cil mem­bers Sherry Mathews, left, Keith Lip­ford and Linda Bell lis­ten as mem­bers of the pub­lic ad­dress them about a res­o­lu­tion to in­crease the mayor’s salary to $72,000.

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