City Council votes salary increase for Cox
The not-so-subtle rub between Morristown Mayor Danny Thomas and City Administrator Tony Cox emerged again Tuesday afternoon when Thomas cast the lone vote against increasing Cox’s deferred-compensation package.
Councilmembers voted 6-1 to increase the percentage of Cox’s salary placed into a retirement fund from 7 percent to 12 percent. For this year, that will mean a compensation hike of $7,000. Cox’s base salary is slightly more than $140,000.
The mayor offered reasons why he opposed increasing the city administrator’s deferred-compensation payments, none of which gained any traction with the remaining six councilmembers.
Essentially, Thomas maintains, Cox’s overall pay should not be increased because his duties are shrinking. The other six councilmembers maintain that increasing Cox’s compensation package brings his salary and benefits to a level of other similarly sized cities.
As support of his position, the mayor cited hiring of a full-time public works director; shifting management of the sewer system to the Morristown Utilities Commission and the delegation of some airport-related duties to the Morristown Regional Airport Commission.
Councilmember Dennis Alvis pointed out that Morristown has had a public works director for 40 years.
One city official says that as municipalities grow larger, operation of the sewer system is frequently ceded to a board outside the direct management of a city administrator, apart from the fact that many sewer-related decision involve engineering expertise.
Also, Cox and Financial-Services Director Larry Clark have been routinely meeting with MUS officials about the management transition, which is expected to occur around the beginning of 2014, with no or very limited council involvement.
With respect to the airport commission, the city administrator is a non-voting member who performs secretarial duties, and there has been no indication Cox plans to shed those responsibilities in the foreseeable future.
What’s happened in the three-and-a-half years Cox has been on the job is to reduce council involvement – not the city administrator’s role – in contentious issues like setting sewer rates, operation of the airport and planning for central Morristown.
The mayor never denied assertions prior to the May municipal election that he intended to fire Cox if he could get majority support among councilmembers.
What happened, however, is that his primary elected political supporter, Gene Brooks, was trounced by councilmember Gary Chesney.
Jim Crumley, a former city administrator who is widely viewed as presiding over the depletion of Morristown’s cash reserves, was making $121,000 in 2006. Adjusting Crumley’s former base salary for inflation alone would result in a salary statistically identical to what Cox is earning now.
What’s also relevant are that councilmembers paid Crumley $145,000 to leave, and that city finances have improved dramatically since Cox took over.
When Cox began work, city government had a negative fund balance. After three years, Morristown’s cash reserves topped $10 million.
-By Robert Moore, Tribune Staff Writer