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Estep looking to take pay cut

Negotiations with city manager, council began in January
By: Stephanie Dumm News Messenger Reporter
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While Lincoln City Manager Jim Estep reported at the last City Council meeting he will take a salary reduction, officials are mum about the size of the reduction. Estep said during the March 8 City Council meeting that he has “been working for quite some time on a salary reduction and it’s much more significant than what anyone in the city has ever taken within the city.” Estep’s current base salary, without benefits, is estimated to be $223,499 as of Aug. 30, 2010. Councilman Stan Nader said discussions about reducing Estep’s salary started Jan. 25, when the council first held a closed session to discuss the salary reduction. “It has to be negotiated and both sides have to agree because he’s under contract and under no obligation to reduce (his salary),” Nader said. The News Messenger asked Estep on Monday how much he would cut from his salary and when he first approached City Council about taking the pay cut. “As I haven’t finished discussions with the City Council regarding my proposed salary reduction, it would be inappropriate for me to comment to the press about it at this time other than to say that I have made a proposal and am waiting to have further discussions with them,” Estep said via e-mail on Monday afternoon. But at the last council meeting, Mayor Paul Joiner, during the public comment portion of the meeting, requested that Estep reveal his plans for a pay cut after a resident spoke about pay reductions that school district employees plan to take for next year. Joiner said there had been closed session discussions about Estep’s salary. On Monday, Estep said that he and City Council would have to agree to any changes made to his employment agreement. “If a contract amendment is to be approved by the City Council, that would occur at an open public meeting of the City Council,” Estep said. Joiner would not comment about Estep’s salary reduction when asked Monday by The News Messenger. “I won’t be able to comment on this matter as negotiations are ongoing,” Joiner said. “We are in the process of arranging closed sessions of the council for this Thursday, the 17th,” Joiner said. The News Messenger asked Joiner questions including how much of a pay cut Estep would take, when he approached the council about taking the cut, what the proper procedure for reducing a city manager’s salary is and how long Estep and the council have been in talks about reducing his salary. Jim Ewert, legal counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association, said discussions about the pay cut can be done in closed session. “A reduction in compensation for an employee is the only time a Brown Act body can meet in closed session to discuss salary,” Ewert said. But, Ewert said, the Brown Act doesn’t preclude Joiner and the rest of City Council, from giving their opinion about the salary reduction. “In the context of ongoing negotiations, depending on what his opinion is, it could jeopardize the negotiations if he shares an opinion that might upset the city manager,” Ewert said. “To that extent, he may be cautious and fairly well-advised in that point but nothing in the law prohibits him from doing that.” Ewert said the length of time Estep’s salary reduction has been in the works can be discussed. The News Messenger asked Nader about Estep’s proposed salary reduction. Nader wrote in a News Messenger column (A6, March 3, "I need your support for fiscal sustaintability, transparency") that he was “ready to have a dialogue with our city’s administrators and department chiefs” about taking a 15-percent “voluntary wage reduction.” “To keep the wheels on the bus, we have to keep enough on staff to do work and that leaves us not a lot of options, but to get concessions,” Nader said Monday. “We cannot cut positions to a point where we cease to function. Nader said he was unable to comment on how much of a salary reduction Estep has offered “because negotiations are ongoing.”