Council Doubles Mayor’s Salary
PENN PLANS TO BE FULL-TIME MAYOR
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.