By Mark Fischenich
Free Press Staff Writer
— MANKATO — Top managers for Blue Earth County and the city of Mankato aren’t at the maximum salary allowed by state law, but they’re earning substantially more than the governor — something that was prohibited in Minnesota prior to 2005.
Blue Earth County Administrator Bob Meyer, earning $147,139, was the best-paid south-central Minnesota city or county official on a list compiled by The Associated Press. Mankato City Manager Pat Hentges was close behind at $143,948. Gov. Mark Dayton is paid $120,303.
Until 2005, cities and counties had to get a waiver from the state to pay employees more than 95 percent of the governor’s salary. The change in law bumped that to 110 percent but also included an automatic annual inflationary increases — pushing the maximum to nearly $161,000 even while the governor’s salary hasn’t changed in 15 years.
Along with raising the cap, lawmakers instituted a requirement that cities and counties with populations of 15,000 or more must supply residents with easy access the top three salaries paid in their organization. It’s that information that AP used to compile its list.
Behind Meyer, Blue Earth County’s top salaries go to County Attorney Ross Arneson and Human Services Director Phil Claussen, each receiving $129,813.
Le Sueur County Administrator/Engineer Darrell Pettis is paid $125,008 for his double duties, but other county employees don’t reach $100,000. Brown County pays both its administrator and its engineer just more than $100,000.
The administrator, engineer and county attorney in Nicollet County each earn between $95,000 and $99,143. In Waseca County, it’s the attorney, followed by the administrator and the engineer — all earning more than $90,000 but less than $97,000. In Sibley County, only the engineer tops $90,000.
In The Free Press coverage area, Mankato is the only city with a population topping 15,000. Following Hentges, the top earners in city government were the public works director, the public safety director and assistant city manager with matching $110,741 salaries.
Mankato Mayor Eric Anderson said Hentges’ salary is probably in proportion with what similar managers are being paid and with the amount of work he’s doing. While Hentges accepted salary freezes during tight budget years, he received a raise a year ago. Anderson said he’s unlikely to support another raise this year.
“I think he’s well compensated,” Anderson said. “If they came back with a salary increase again, I’d be reluctant to support that.”
As for Meyer’s salary, Blue Earth County Board Chairman Drew Campbell said the county has traditionally tried to retain talented employees and has been willing to pay a bit above the median for similarly sized counties to do so.
“We do have to stay competitive,” Campbell said. “Do you know how much time it takes to keep hiring people, keep training people?”
Still, Campbell was the one commissioner who thought Meyer’s salary should have been lower when he was hired two years ago.
“I thought it was set a little bit high,” he said, adding that he doesn’t dispute it’s a demanding job with multiple facets. “But the rest of the board thought it was appropriate.”