Camas city manager wants to reimagine and reinvent Parks and Recreation

New city of Camas Parks and Recreation job description comes with a $40,000 increase in cost to taxpayers

Jerry Acheson announced his retirement as manager of the Camas Parks and Recreation department. He has worked for the city for 30 years.

The new Camas City Manager Jamal Fox proposed that Acheson’s replacement be elevated to a director position. A new job description had been created in advance of a job search. An extensive discussion occurred during the Camas City Council workshop on Oct. 5. The council was also getting its first look at Mayor Barry McDonnell’s proposed budget.

Discussion among council members raised eyebrows, in part because the new, elevated position would have a 25-percent increase in salary. The approximate 25 percent pay increase will require an additional budget allocation of approximately $40,000 in salary and benefits according to a city document. The proposed monthly salary ranges from $9,676 per month in the first year, to $11,591 in the seventh and subsequent years.

Fox led the discussion with his rationale for the change.

“We feel it’s critical that we begin recruitment for our next leader and are recommending a change from the position of manager to director with the proposed salary schedule as posted publicly,” said Fox. “We have come a long way as a community from a community of 3,000 to over 25,000 residents in our community and growing.

City administrator Jamal Fox
City administrator Jamal Fox

“We . . . look forward to reimagining the future of our parks department for the next 30 years, to meet the needs of our residents here in the community, now and in the future” said Fox. “Since 1999, the job description has not undergone any revision or review. We see this position as a director level position that will engage the community and engage community reimagining and reinventing public spaces at the heart of our community.”

“This position will work with other department heads to promote urban design, while paying very close attention to the physical, cultural, and social identities that define our various neighborhoods, each of which are unique in nature,” said Fox. “The community-based participation will be key and will be at the core of the department and leveraging our community’s assets, our inspiration and potential that will strengthen the community’s health, happiness and well being.” 

“The changes to the position, as outlined, would require a higher level of leadership and management,” said Fox. “As the city moves forward into the future, especially with the development north of the lake and other potential acquisitions currently or in the future. The next parks leader will have a broad understanding of municipal government, including policy development and implementation, budgeting, asset and personnel management.” 

That prompted a great deal of discussion among council members. Councilor Steve Hogan began the questioning of the proposal to elevate a manager position to a director position.

“I’m seeing that this job basically has six full-time employees that are reporting to this manager,” said Hogan. “That basically compares with the library that has 23, the public works has 39, the fire chief has 53, the police chief has 38, the community development director has 17.

“But at this point, it’s still a relatively small FTE (full-time equivalent) management job and moving it up to the level we’re talking about moving it up to puts it up with the top levels that we have on our staff,” said Hogan. “So it’s our job to kind of split the baby here and come up with what is going to be the proper level. I can’t support the level that we’ve got for this in the proposal. I would rather see personally that this move to the level that’s equivalent to the current amount that we pay for the IT director and the Library director and use that same salary structure.”

Staff member Jennifer Gorsuch said “what Steve is proposing there is about a 15 percent increase over the current versus the 25 that’s in your agenda packet.”

Councilor Bonnie Carter agreed with Hogan on a 15 percent increase. “I think that’s a good, good compromise and a good plan forward with after community input.”

Councilor Greg Anderson weighed in, asking “can we afford it? Can we pay for it? That 1 percent structural deficit dilemma that Kathy keeps reminding us about, may curtail our ability to do what we want to do and have to do what we can do.”

“I’m a little concerned that our appetite may be greater than our budget for the food,” said Anderson.. “I agree with Mr. Hogan. Something is out of whack.”

“I know we want to have another pair of hands, and a leader leading us,” said Anderson. “But in the priority, I want to make sure we’re focused on the community, communications and not lose sight of that.”

Earlier in the year, Camas purchased land along the north shore of Lacamas Lake to add to their Legacy Lands. Map courtesy of city of Camas.
Earlier in the year, Camas purchased land along the north shore of Lacamas Lake to add to their Legacy Lands. Map courtesy of city of Camas.

Councilor Shannon Roberts echoed concerns of others. “can we afford it?” She then inquired about the comparable positions used to justify the elevation of the job and the 25 percent increase. The compensation study included the city of Vancouver, which is 480,000 people.  That is a large disparity between the city of Vancouver and the city of Camas with 25,000 people.

Roberts also asked about budgets of other cities. “Just because they have a comparable number of population doesn’t mean that their budget is the same as ours,” said Roberts. “It just needs to be taken into consideration. Can we afford it going forward?”

Councilor Melissa Smith weighed in. “A 25 percent increase is pretty high. I could see more of a 10 to 15 percent increase,” she said. “What is the comparable to Battle Ground since that is closer in size to us?”

Councilor Don Cheney responded. “A little more than a year ago, we engaged in a process that, frankly, I regret — the Prop 2 thing. And I don’t mean to say that this has a comparison, but this is a significant change.” Cheney was referring to the 90-percent rejection of the $78 million pool bond by Camas voters.

Voters rejected a $78 million pool bond in Camas last year. Members of the City Council are concerned about elevating the Parks and Recreation position to a director level, recalling the 2019 backlash. Photo courtesy of We the Governed.
Voters rejected a $78 million pool bond in Camas last year. Members of the City Council are concerned about elevating the Parks and Recreation position to a director level, recalling the 2019 backlash. Photo courtesy of We the Governed.

Cheney brought up the fact that the council had just received the new, revised job description. He mentioned the small number of employees being supervised. “I have a concern using other city title comps to determine compensation using a position title,” said Cheney.”If we’re going to vote tonight, I’m not prepared to support it.”

Cheney wanted to discuss factors such as a number of subordinates, the complexity of decisions, risks for error the city might assume. These were important considerations to be discussed. He concluded: “Let’s take our time and do it right.”

Fox asked Cheney to elaborate on his concerns.

Councilor Cheney wondered why the job required someone with a master’s degree. He remarked that the changed job description seems to align with responsibilities of other city departments. “I’m not comfortable, not having been able to digest and understand some of the changes that we’re making,” said Cheney.

“I agree with increasing this from a manager role to a director role,” said Councilor Ellen Burton. “I think that the level of responsibility with the acquisition of the legacy lands has increased. I can see here from the job description, that you’re envisioning a very large change management role. Secondly, I agree with using the pay structure for the IT and library director at least to start.”

As a result of the reservations expressed by city council members at the workshop, Mayor Barry McDonnell removed the item from the agenda of the regular council meeting, later that evening.