One member of the Glen Rose City Council alleges that attempts to discuss a big ticket item in an open forum were recently shot down.

On Thursday, Feb. 7, the council called a closed session meeting to discuss the possible extension of the contract of City Administrator Ken West. That annual contract comes with a $96,000 price tag, which includes a $6,000 vehicle allowance. 

The contract and salary were extended in a 3:2 split vote with Bryant and council member Johnny Martin voting against renewal. 

Council members Dennis Moore, Sandra Ramsay and Mayor Pro-Tem Bob Stricklin supported the contract.

In speaking with the Reporter last week, Martin said the issue was not a personal one or related to the city administrator's job performance.

"It was a money issue," Martin said. "I voted against the contract due to the salary."

Martin said just prior to the Feb. 7 meeting, he contacted nearby cities to see how West's salary compared. He said city policy dictates employee compensation must be based on "prevailing rates."

Meridian, which has a population of about 1,000 fewer citizens than Glen Rose, pays its city administrator less than $50,000 per year. In Clifton, which has a population of about 1,000 more residents than Glen Rose, the pay rate is less than $60,000.    

Martin said the current salary is $26,000 more than the pay rate that was initially approved by the council prior to hiring West. After he was named the lone finalist for the position, West was given an additional $20,000. 

Bryant, who was not on the council when the city administrator was hired, said he also sees a problem with the pay rate and took issue with the fact that the salary was not a topic of debate by the current council prior to this month's extension.

West's contract is reviewed on an annual basis and will remain in effect until March 2014.

"Instead of reopening the review and hiring process and finding an applicant who was willing to take the job for $70,000, the council voted to hire him for $90,000 last year," Bryant said, adding that vote was made in April 2012 and he was elected the following month. 

The $6,000 vehicle allowance was later approved.

Bryant says he and Martin are not the only two council members who think the almost $100,000 is too much. 

He said comments made during closed session showed at least a couple of council members had some regret over the compensation package. Two council members admitted a mistake was made last year, according to Bryant

"They said they knew they had overpaid but couldn't fix it now," he said. "I told them that was why we were there."

When asked about the compensation issue, council member Sandra Ramsay declined to comment, citing legal issues when discussing employee evaluation and pay.

"I cannot comment on the conversation because it happened in executive session, and I will not violate executive session law," Ramsay said.

While Bryant said the council never addressed the evaluation as a group, Ramsay said the evaluation as it was handled was approved by the council. Each member was given an evaluation form they later reviewed one-on-one with Stricklin. An overall evaluation, based on council member ratings, was by Stricklin. The Mayor Pro-Tem then reviewed the evaluation with West in a personal meeting.

Ramsay said she supported the contract due to a favorable evaluation and supported the contract as it was presented because there were no other offers on the table.

“Had his evaluation been poor, I would have never done that,” Ramsay said.

Prior to the contract vote, Bryant said he made a motion in open session to continue to discuss the evaluation of the city administrator’s job performance. That motion died in a 3:2 split vote, with Martin and Bryant voting in favor.

Martin said he supported the motion because he believes if any council member feels the need to continue to discuss any topic, they should be allowed to do so.

"If all we were going to do is renew the contract, why wasn't that discussion held in open session?" Bryant asked. "Why was there a closed session discussion if the council was not going to discuss his performance?"

Ramsay said she also opposed that motion, and since the discussions related to the evaluation were not specifically listed on the agenda. She said the only issue on the single item agenda was discussion of the contract.

While the Reporter was not aware of the meeting until after it was held, a copy of the agenda from city hall last week showed one item related to personnel matters. There was not specific mention of the contract or evaluation on the agenda that was made available.

City Secretary Melanie Reese said the agenda was posted inside and outside of Town Hall and available at as required by law.

Bryant, who feels like an issue related to taxpayer money was somewhat brushed under the table, is also questioning why a meeting notice related to taxpayer funds was not provided to all local media outlets. He said the notice should have been sent in the same manner as those announcing regular monthly meetings and other special sessions.

Bryant questioned why the executive session discussion was held less than one week before the council's regular monthly meeting on Monday, Feb. 11,  when newspapers were notified and could in turn share information with citizens and taxpayers.

In an effort to remedy what he feels is an effort to detract attention from a topic of debate, Bryant has asked that an item be placed on the council's March agenda related to the publication of meetings. He will ask the council to consider a policy that would require all local media outlets be informed of all called meetings, including executive session discussions.

"Their decision did citizens and the taxpayers no justice," Bryant said.