Citing the dramatic turnaround in town fortunes since Robert Whritenour took office, the board unanimously approved a pay hike.
Oak Bluffs town administrator Robert Whritenour will have a little extra money to spend on Christmas presents this holiday season. Meeting in executive session following their October 28 meeting, selectmen held a performance review and followed it up with a unanimous vote to give the town administrator a three percent step increase effective immediately this fiscal year and next.
The raise was announced at Tuesday night’s regular meeting by chairman Greg Coogan. “It’s well deserved and overdue,“ he said.
Speaking with The Times earlier on Tuesday, Mr. Coogan was more expansive about the reasons for the raise. “He’s done so many things in a positive way for the town,” he said. “He’s very responsive to the board’s wishes. He’s put us in a great financial position. He’s made it an inclusive style working with the members of the finance committee, he’s making solid plans for the future with the capital improvement committee, and we’re going in a very positive direction so we can take proactive steps in improving the town infrastructure.”
Mr. Coogan also said that Mr. Whritenour has shown exemplary dedication to the town. “Bob puts himself through a lot on a daily basis with his travel,” he said, referring to Mr. Whritenour’s daily commute from Falmouth. “We know he sacrifices a lot to come to the Island and we know he’s developed a real love for Oak Bluffs, not just for the people but also for the uniqueness of Oak Bluffs.”
“We got Bob at a bargain price and he clearly earned his keep,” selectman Walter Vail told The Times on Tuesday before that night’s meeting. “It was the only fair thing to do. I hope somewhere down the road, before his contract runs out, that we can put in place a reasonable extension on it. I think the rest of the board would agree with me.”
Reached by phone, selectman Gail Barmakian had no comment on the raise.
Mr. Whritenour was named town administrator in February 2012. His current contract, which expires in 2017, called for him to receive $128,051 in FY 2014, which ends June 30, 2015.
“I’m very appreciative of the board’s action,” Mr. Whritenour told The Times on Wednesday. “I was quite moved actually. I didn’t request a raise. I’m very happy to be working for this town.”
Mr. Whritenour said a provision of his contract requires the selectmen to make an annual evaluation. While his three evaluations have been positive, Mr. Whritenour, citing hard financial times, said he had not requested or received any step increases, which according to his contract, can be roughly three percent a year with a favorable board review. “I didn’t put it in the budget because things have been so tight and the focus has been on the health of the town’s finances,” he said.
Mr. Whritenour said that selectmen based this fiscal year’s step increase on last year’s evaluation and next year’s step increase on this year’s evaluation.
Formerly Falmouth’s town manager, Mr. Whritenour was named interim town administrator in September 2011 and he’s been widely credited for bringing stability to town finances that were in disarray at the time.
Mr. Whritenour’s interim contract called for him to work for 13 weeks, at a salary of $1,731 per week, representing an annual rate of $90,000.
At the time, the town had been without an administrator since August 1 and was still reeling following a series of missteps that included a botched election and a reprimand from the state attorney general’s office over bidding and procurement practices.
Mr. Whritenour said the Oak Bluffs job was a substantial pay cut from his previous job as Falmouth town administrator, “But I didn’t come out here for the money,” he said. “I came to contribute to the community and I work hard at it and I enjoy it. I love the Island and I love the community and I want to continue to do a good job.”
Executive session explained
Mr. Coogan said there was no particular reason for the timing of the pay increase, rather a long succession of positive developments in the town. “We have had a lot of positive feedback about Bob for a long time, both when Kathy [Burton] was chair and when Walter [Vail] was chair. I believe his contract mentions looking at step increases and we hadn’t offered any in the last several years and we felt we had been a little bit late in rewarding him. It had nothing to do with anything other than he’s doing a great job We feel this is the right thing to do.”
According to the agenda of the October 28 meeting, the reason for the executive session was “To conduct strategy sessions in preparation for negotiations, or contract negotiations with nonunion personnel.” The minutes of the executive session have not yet been released.
“The intention was to have a frank discussion without any outside pressures. We just wanted to make sure we were all on the same page,” Mr. Coogan explained.
“When you’re talking about someone’s salary, that’s an executive session topic, or when you’re talking contracts, which we did not change,” Mr. Vail said. “Because we were beginning the work on our FY 16 budget, we wanted to make sure it did not get missed by the selectmen, because Bob wasn’t going to do it on his own, we know that.”
“Under the law, it’s standard practice to go into executive session to talk about contractual issues,” Mr. Whritenour said Wednesday. “I think that’s why the board chose to go into executive session. I really didn’t have a preference.”