By Mark Fischenich
Free Press Staff Writer
NORTH MANKATO — Prospective new North Mankato City Administrator John Harrenstein will receive paychecks totaling more than $116,000 a year — $3,601 more annually than former City Administrator Wendell Sande received prior to his May retirement — under a contract the City Council will be asked to approve Monday.
Harrenstein and North Mankato Mayor Mark Dehen negotiated the contract after the council unanimously decided on Dec. 20 to offer the city’s top appointed position to the Eudora, Kan., city administrator. Dehen said the city’s personnel committee has signed off on the agreement and he expects the council to approve it at a special meeting called for 12:30 p.m. Monday.
“I think they’ll be comfortable with it,” Dehen said. “He was their unanimous pick.”
The salary range for the city administrator position in North Mankato is $77,124 to $114,660. Harrenstein’s contract fits within that because his base salary would be $112,000, although his paychecks will also include cash allowances for a car ($3,600 a year) and a cell phone ($780 annually) — bringing the total payments to $116,380.
Sande’s final base salary was just under $108,000 plus a car allowance of $4,800. There was no cell phone allowance in his contract.
Harrenstein has much less experience than his predecessor. He was just 27 years old when hired at a $78,000 salary as Eudora’s CEO in September of 2009. The post in the Kansas town of 6,200 was his first as a city administrator. Sande had been city administrator in North Mankato for 16 years and was the city’s finance director for 15 years prior to that.
But Dehen said Harrenstein’s proposed contract isn’t out of line with comparable Minnesota cities.
“It’s competitive with the area and with the other 28 similar-sized cities in the state,” he said.
Pat Hentges, who has been Mankato’s city manager since 1996, is currently receiving a base salary of just less than $144,000 in a city with triple North Mankato’s population.
Dehen said Harrenstein’s salary is also near the top of the city’s salary range because of demographics. Many city administrators, like Sande, are at or approaching retirement age and the number of qualified younger administrators isn’t keeping pace, he said.
Harrenstein’s proposed two-year contract differs from Sande’s final employment agreement in another way. It’s four times the length of Sande’s two-page agreement.
Much of the additional length comes from more legalistic language, but the “termination” section is also significantly longer. Sande’s contract provided that — if the council terminated his employment — he would receive one week’s severance pay for every year of employment with the city.
Harrenstein’s contract provides six months of severance pay if his employment is terminated, plus payment of accrued sick and vacation time and continuation of insurance coverage and the car allowance for the six months. But the agreement spells out that the severance package
doesn’t apply if he is unable to perform his duties due to a long-term disability, is unwilling to perform his duties or if there’s been documented acts of job-related dishonesty or fraud.
Another clause of the agreement seems aimed at providing some protection for Harrenstein from electoral politics. The clause requires severance to be paid if Harrenstein is fired within six months of any new member of the council being elected and sworn in.
Other items are related to his status as a new employee and as a new member of the community. The city will cover moving expenses from Eudora, along with travel expenses, temporary lodging and meals during the house-hunting stage. And Harrenstein would receive two weeks of vacation and two weeks of sick time during his first year in North Mankato, with vacation and sick time accruing in subsequent years equivalent to an employee with five years of city employment.
As with Sande’s contract, Harrenstein’s requires the city to cover the cost of subscriptions and memberships to local civic organizations, along with state and national organizations related to his job. In Harrenstein’s agreement, the city also agrees to cover travel and lodging expenses for attendance at conferences of state and national municipal associations.
Dehen originally expected to present a negotiated contract to the council at its regular meeting on Jan. 22. The decision to hold a special meeting Monday is motivated by the Eudora council’s scheduled Monday night meeting, he said.
If the North Mankato Council approves the agreement Monday afternoon, it can be signed and faxed to Harrenstein in time for him to submit his resignation at the Eudora Council’s night meeting, Dehen said.
“Then he can give his notice at that meeting and get here March 1,” he said. “... Otherwise, we’d have to wait another month.”