Farmington raises went all the way to the top
Shukle’s raises surpassed contract rate
Months before he agreed to resign, then-Farmington City Administrator Ed Shukle in 2003 received a $6,383 raise, partly based on a compensation study that found he was already being paid more than the market median salary.
Shukle’s salary rose to $93,383 on Jan. 1, 2003, based on the 2002 compensation study and cost-of-living increases, according to city payroll documents.
Then-Farmington Mayor Jerry Ristow said he did not find out about the raise and salary level until months later.
City administrator’s compensation is determined by a negotiated contract with the City Council, and increased upon positive performance reviews, Farmington Mayor Todd Larson said.
On Dec. 16, 2002, Shukle clarified in an addendum to City Council members that the city administrator is eligible for cost-of-living raises, and should receive them at the same time as non-union employees.
According to meeting minutes, the addendum was approved by City Council.
Former City Council Member Lacelle Cordes, who was on the council when Shukle worked for the city, said Shukle’s raises were “absolutely not” appropriate “because his raises should come from council reviews, not studies and/or cost-of-living raises.”
City Administrator Dave McKnight stated in an e-mail that raises for the administrator are approved by a separate resolution by the City Council, and are not part of agreed raises for non-union employees.
Shukle did not respond to messages seeking comment.
The $6,383 increase was the fourth raise Shukle had received in the 22 months he led the city.
Shukle’s starting salary on Sept. 4, 2001, was $80,000, and four months later, it increased to $81,600 for a cost-of-living increase.
Former Finance Director Robin Roland and current Human Resources Director Brenda Wendlandt gave the approval signatures on Shukle’s cost-of-living increases.
After two more months, Shukle received a $5,400 raise resulting from his six-month review to earn $87,000.
According to Shukle’s employment contract, his salary was to increase to $83,000 after a satisfactory job review, and another raise after a year, providing he earned a satisfactory job performance evaluation from the City Council.
Shukle’s contract stated he would receive annual reviews, and if positive, raises at an amount equal to or greater than that given other employees, subject to City Council approval.
Shukle’s salary increased four months later, bringing his wage to $88,740 (cost-of-living raise) until the last increase before he was forced to resign after a heated July 3, 2003, emergency meeting of the then-Farmington City Council.
An overflowing crowd that included then-current and former city staff, confronted Ristow and then-council members to protest Shukle’s resignation, according to meeting minutes.
So great was the outcry that extra police were stationed in City Hall for security.
Speakers pressed Ristow, and council members Cordes and Bill Fitch to explain why they supported Shukle’s resignation; then-council members Christy Jo Fogarty and Kevan Soderberg, who would later become mayor, stated they did not know the reasons for shortening Shukle’s contract.
Ristow said then that data privacy laws limited their responses.
According to meeting minutes, Ristow said there were negotiations going on for about a year.
“We cannot sit here and tell you what goes on internally,” the minutes quote Ristow. “There are a lot of things that could come out yet, as attorney (Joel) Jamnik has indicated, and we have to back it. Some of you are employers and have employees and when things are brought to your attention, you know what the data privacy act entails.”
Larson predicted that Shukle’s raises would be part of Farmington’s current review of past department head salaries after this newspaper’s report about multiple raises city officials have received.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if it was part of the investigation,” Larson said. “We definitely do not do things like that now. The administrator’s salary is subjected to council review and negotiations.”
When Shukle left in 2003, he received a severance package that included six months salary lump sum payment of $47,625, $7,000 compensation for costs related to obtaining other employment and up to $1,500 reimbursement of legal fees, according to the separation agreement.
Previous to Farmington, Shukle worked for 13 years in Mound as city manager.
Mound’s then-Mayor Pat Meisel said Shukle was terminated from that position on a split vote because some council members felt he was not living up to the job.
He has served as administrator in Jordan since 2006.
Farmington city department directors’ salaries currently range from $93,684 to $106,613 plus benefits.
Wendlandt is the city’s highest-paid director and oversees a staff of three.
Her salary has nearly tripled in her 15 years with the city, and she was given title changes that came with raises without City Council knowledge or approval.
According to city records, Roland approved Wendlandt’s first promotion from coordinator to manager and Shukle approved her promotion to director.
The city is interviewing to hire a finance director at a starting salary between $76,447 and $93,684.
Many of directors have received more than one raise annually.
In his nine years as parks director, Parks and Recreation Director Randy Distad’s salary has risen 15 times, going from $68,440 to $102,304, an increase totaling $33,864.
Based on his starting salary and nine annual raises at 4 percent, his salary would be about $97,200.
City Engineer Kevin Schorzman has earned almost $40,000 in raises in the five years he has worked for Farmington.
Schorzman started as an assistant engineer earning $64,334 in 2007, was promoted to engineer in 2008, and now earns $102,730.
Larson said the city saved money by hiring its own engineer instead of paying Bonestroo Engineering employees to work full-time at the city.
“When I realized how much we were paying Bonestroo one of the things I wanted to do was have our own engineering staff and eliminate those expenses,” Larson said.
Since Farmington police Chief Brian Lindquist took his department’s top job in 2006, his salary has gone from $80,833 as interim police chief to his current $102,743 salary.
His salary has increased about 4 percent annually based on six years of raises.
Lindquist regularly works four-day work weeks, and stays late one night per week; Farmington City Council members have raised concerns about his year-round Fridays-off work weeks during recent budget workshops.
Among the concerns is that the regular three-day weekends could affect employee morale.
Farmington Municipal Services Director Todd Reiten has been with the city since 1993, working his way up from a mechanic to fleet maintenance supervisor then assistant public works director before earning that department’s top spot in 2006.
When he started as a director in 2008, Reiten was earning $73,851; he now earns $93,684.
He was a fleet maintenance supervisor in 2002 earning $45,849 and received two raises within four months that were partly based on the 2002 compensation study findings.
The study found his salary was underpaid by almost 12 percent, and the market median salary was $51,175.
After two raises, Reiten was earning $50,652 in July of 2003.
Five months later, cost-of-living increases brought him to $51,665, surpassing the 2002 wage compensation study median for his position.
The 2002 wage compensation study was authorized to be conducted by the then-Farmington City Council, but were not shown the full study, according to former council members, city meeting packets and minutes.
Wendlandt asked City Attorney Joel Jamnik in an e-mail if she was required to present information about the new compensation structure to the council.
Jamnik encouraged Wendlandt to provide more detailed information to the council. She provided a study summary and did not inform the council that the study found lower-level positions were being paid below market rate while supervisory positions were paid above market rate.
Wendlandt also said the study would include “salary adjustments and title changes for some city staff” but did not identify the positions or amounts.
“Hopefully all future wage increases will come to the council in some form or fashion,” current City Council Member Jason Bartholomay said.