For the third time in less than a year, the Crookston City Council – at a Ways & Means Committee meeting Monday evening – discussed the possibility of increasing the salary paid to Information Technology Director Tom Lindo, then voted against an increase to the level that City Administrator Tony Chladek was recommending, from Lindo's current annual salary of $54,742 to $63,000.
But this time around, Lindo is weighing a job offer elsewhere, and there is a push to try to keep him from leaving his city IT job. So, after the committee rejected the salary increase to $63,000 on a 5-3 vote – Frank Lindgen, Tom Jorgens and Tom Vedbraaten in favor, Dana Johnson, Dale Stainbrook, Bob Quanrud, Wayne Melbye and Keith Myklseth against – council members on the committee subsequently voted unanimously in favor of a motion put forth by Mykleseth to increase the IT Director's salary to $58,000. In addition, the position is in line to receive 2 percent annual raises through 2014.
But will that be enough to keep Lindo from taking the job? Chladek said he wasn't even sure if $63,000 a year would be enough to spur Lindo to stay with the city. Asked by the Times this morning if he felt like commenting, Lindo said he'd prefer not to.
A bit contentious
Lindgren led the talk in favor of boosting Lindo's salary to $63,000 a year, citing previous recommendations by onetime City Administrator Aaron Parrish and onetime City Clerk/Treasurer Betty Arvidson to increase the salary paid to the position, recommendations that were shunned by the council. Now, Lindgren said, the council is rejecting Chladek's recommendation to increase the position's pay to $63,000.
"I just feel real bad about this," Lindgren said. "We're just kind of thumbing our nose at our administrators."
Lindo's work is popular with city department heads, and Police Chief Tim Motherway on Monday spoke strongly in favor of the work Lindo does for the CPD. He disagreed with Melbye's contention that the work could be outsourced relatively easy to other firms, even national firms who could potentially do much of the city's IT work remotely, from another location.
"We are very tech-heavy, with nothing on paper anymore, and we are very heavily dependent on Tom," Motherway said, adding that Lindo has come out in the middle of the night on occasion to fix technological problems. "We can't just have any outsourced person come in; we have to do a background check before anyone can even touch our stuff. I don't think just anyone can log in to our system."
The issue of where the money for the additional pay would come from was also largely unresolved, although with the smaller increase to $58,000 the city might be able to find the money from agencies like the Housing and Redevelopment Authority, for which Lindo has done IT work in the past, free of charge.
Melbye led the voices against the larger salary increase, stressing as he has in past discussions that the city can't be forced to up the ante every time an employee, even a valued one, is looking for higher-paying work elsewhere.
"All of a sudden this is back on our plate again; I got more to do than this," Melbye said. "We said when Chad (former IT Director Chad Palm) left, boy, he's going to be hard to replace. Then we got Tom."
Chladek said he's not confident the city would be able to attract a quality pool of IT Director candidates for a job paying less than $60,000. Jorgens echoed that sentiment, saying information technology is an extremely competitive field. "I can't imagine that if we don't do this (the increase to $63,000) we're going to save any money in the end," he said.
Melbye countered that there are always young professionals looking to get their foot in the door somewhere, even in Crookston.
As she's said before as well, Johnson said that she and others like her choose to live in Crookston for a multitude of reasons, with the realization that they would likely be able to make more money in their profession if they took jobs elsewhere. "We don't have the money (for a raise to $63,000) and I think it's irresponsible to all of a sudden raise the budget," she said. "Where do we draw the line on this? We are Crookston, we're not anyone else.
"Tom's a great guy and he does a great job," Johnson continued. "But even if it means we lose a quality person, we need to be realistic to our taxpayers."
Prior to the vote to raise the position's salary to $58,000, Chladek voiced his concern about the position's compensation, whether it's Lindo holding the position or someone else.
"To find an IT person who does all of these things 24/7, many outside of the job description, I'm really concerned about that. I really am," Chladek said. "If you don't have an individual managing that, now you have department heads spending more time worrying about their infrastructure and working with outside contractors. Right now they don't have to worry about that. Tom handles all of it.
"I don't know," Chladek continued. "Maybe I'm completely wrong."