Scene in Passing: Investment or outsized pay? Just asking

If it’s crazy to do the same thing and expect different results, perhaps it’s time Carson City’s government stop the insanity of inane normalcy and take a risk instead.

Let’s preface what comes below with assurance that the writer in this space hates outsized pay for public servants, who are of course as far from servitude as folks get these days. But such a preference matters little when a market dictates otherwise and city government’s manager is about to leave. In city managers, you generally get what you pay for, and given competition, that’s not much if frugality reigns.

“I hope,” Supervisor John McKenna told me recently, “the panicked response dissipates and that Carson City can have a productive discussion over the next six months to a year.” His missive, which reached its target this week though emailed Saturday, dovetailed with a Scene In Passing Sunday column written Friday that counseled avoiding haste in filling the role permanently. So we agreed without comparing notes.

However, McKenna said nothing about pay, and that’s where this is going. Carson tries to be all things to all people, spends about $100 million annually and employs upward of 500. It’s not the same as a private company capitalized at $100 million, but just for fun consider Tuesday Morning. It’s a $156 million specialty retail chain with a presence in Carson City. The Texas firm paid CEO Kathleen Mason $2.4 million in 2010.

Not relevant or reasonable, you say? Agreed. But what do citizens want? A servant for $140,000 and benefits, the outgoing manager’s take, or a masterful executive of national quality who can shake things up, focus on essential services and cut both payroll and inessentials? Could we invest more to save more?

Private sector comparisons aren’t reasonable. So let’s turn to Dr. Carol Lucey, former president of Western Nevada College. In 2012, she enjoyed a compensation package of $221,000 to lead a small college with a budget much smaller than city government’s. Or perhaps another nearby example is even better.

When Chris Ault resigned and Brian Polian signed on as head Wolf Pack football coach at the University of Nevada, Reno, Polian’s first-season annual salary was set at $475,000 plus perks and possible bonuses. Football is fine sport, but the entire intercollegiate athletic budget at UNR is a pittance compared with Carson City’s.

Bottom line: should the city call its’ manager an executive officer? Should it look outside the box, hike the salary to Polian’s level, ask applicants how they would cut $500,000 and more from city government’s budget to cover the outsized pay package, and determine what competitive pay attracts? Not advocating, just speculating.

John Barrette covers Carson City government and business. He can be reached at


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