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City manager in line for 12% raise

After more than a year as Medford's city manager, Brian Sjothun is on tap to get a 12 percent raise, bringing his base salary to $170,000.

On Thursday, the Medford City Council will consider a new contract for Sjothun that would give him an $18,000 increase from his current salary of $152,000.

"Some people think we went in too low, and that we're still low," Councilor Mike Zarosinski said.

Based on cities of comparable size, Medford offers a competitive salary for the position, Zarosinski said. Bend, for example, pays its city manager $176,000 a year, according to the Bend Bulletin. Springfield's city manager got an annual wage bump to $161,683 this year from $157,955, according to The Register-Guard.

Zarosinski said Sjothun's new salary is in line with other top department heads in government throughout the state.

Under the new contract, Sjothun would get a $500 vehicle allowance each month and $350 a month to a health account. Sjothun also would receive protection against termination without cause until July 1, 2019.

Zarosinski said this clause is a continuation of an agreement that would allow Sjothun to return to work at the Parks and Recreation Department with a salary of $135,000. Sjothun was previously director of the department, though if he returned his title would be "director of special projects."

Zarosinski said Sjothun has exceeded expectations as city manager and has brought a steady hand to the city after a difficult period when the City Council fired one city manager and then had difficulty finding a replacement.

"I think that obviously we came off a particularly contentious and odd situation when he came in," Zarosinski said.

During his first year, Sjothun helped change the culture of city government so that it works well with the council and the community, Zarosinski said.

Sjothun has done a good job preparing for some major achievements in the future, such as expanding the urban growth boundary and transportation planning, Zarosinski said.

"He's done a good job with his executive staff to help move that forward," he said.

Sjothun said he didn't ask for a salary hike or put a number out for consideration.

"It was something offered to me," he said. "Money is not the driving force for me."

Sjothun said he's spent the past year working on getting the city manager's office to better serve the community, the council and city staff.

He hired Kelly Madding as his deputy city manager and Kristina Johnsen as the city's community relations coordinator.

Now the city is looking for a new finance director. Sjothun said he's hoping for someone who acts as chief financial officer to chart revenue and expense trends for the next six to 12 years. For instance, Sjothun said the city's share of the Public Employees Retirement System is projected to increase by $2 million a year, which will put pressure on upcoming budgets and requests for additional employees.

"We really need to start planning for the future," Sjothun said.

Sjothun said the city will consider a new recreation center and an aquatics center, though locations haven't been finalized.

While the city will focus on the urban growth boundary expansion and a transportation plan, Sjothun said he foresees developing some kind of incentive to create more affordable housing.

While Sjothun received generally positive reviews from the council, he said one area he needs to work on is providing the council more time to study complicated issues.

Councilor Kevin Stine said Sjothun started the job with a salary that is lower than many cities the size of Medford in Oregon.

At the same time, the council had significant expectations for someone in the city manager's seat.

"We want someone who comes with ideas but also knows how to get the best out of the staff," Stine said.

Medford faces questions over homelessness and marijuana, and Sjothun has done a good job showing the council this city is not unique in dealing with these issues, Stine said.

"Medford's not an island," he said. "We are not the only city in Oregon or the West Coast that has certain issues."

Stine said he thinks Sjothun has so far met the expectations for the job.

"His pay should be commensurate with the work he's doing," he said.

— Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

Brian Sjothun