The Klamath Irrigation District voted 3-2 Thursday afternoon to pay the new district manager approximately $100,000 per year salary through a proposed two-year contract.
The KID board of directors identified Texan John Wolf, 66, as the top candidate in the manager search completed in late August.
Some 20 people watched from the audience at a conference room in the Klamath County Fairgrounds as board members Grant Knoll, Ken Smith and Brent Cheyne voted in favor of the draft contract. Board members Dave Cacka and Greg Carleton voted against the approval.
A background check on Wolf was conducted and a draft contract was formulated with Wolf.
“I’ve read the contract, I’ve read the background report, and I’m satisfied with both,” Chairman Cheyne said.
Both Cacka and Carleton questioned the salary amount of $100,000. A draft of the contract was not readily available as of press time.
“As you know, it was a split decision on whether to hire Mr. Wolf,” Cacka said. “I have some concern about a couple of things on the contract. It’s not a personal issue. No.1 is the amount that you’re paying him — $100,000 a year. You know, I’ve been on this board over 20 years and we’ve never paid an experienced manager that much.”
Cacka said former manager Mark Stuntebeck started at the position earning roughly $70,000 per year, which rose to approximately $83,000 when he left the district.
“I haven’t seen a contract written where, especially when you’re paying an individual a certain amount of money, where there isn’t a period of time that they have to prove themselves within 90 days or six months,” Cacka said. “I feel that it would behoove the district to have that written into the contract.”
Cheyne said former manager Hollie Cannon’s salary and benefits added up to more than $130,000 per year salary.
“I really feel like the contract is fair and just and your concerns are noted, but I don’t share them,” Cheyne told Cacka.
“It’s not conducive to good business for the district not to have a probationary period written into the contract,” Cacka continued.
Cacka said in the past, all five members of the board was involved with negotiating the draft of a contract for a manager’s salary.
“Basically Greg and I had absolutely zero input on the contract that was offered,” Cacka said.
Cacka and Carleton both shared they don’t feel their opinion on the contract was valued by fellow board members.
Carleton also shared concerns about Wolf as a candidate.
“I feel that he admitted too many weaknesses and lack of experience in way too many areas to be worth $100,000 starting salary,” Carleton said. “With the experience level that the man showed, I think it should be half that. And I agree with Dave, at least on a probationary period.”
Carleton emphasized he wants Wolf to succeed as a manager.
Cacka praised Wolf as a “nice guy” who is an experienced mechanic and knowledgeable on equipment and inventory and how to “handle people.” But concerns with the candidate rank high for Cacka.
“He has no computer skills,” Cacka said. “He’s never written a grant, doesn’t know what GIS is. His irrigation experience from what I can tell is limited.
“Just from a strictly practical point of view district wise, there’s just a grave lack of experience there.”
Board member Grant Knoll spoke out in support of the contract drafted as is.
“The guy’s leaving a great job where he’s at and giving the board the ability to just terminate him for no reason is not really that fair to the man. So, if he makes the move here, I don’t think that’s right. But the contract does say he can be terminated for just cause.”
Board member Ken Smith also shared his opinion.
“I think a trial basis is a good way to go, but you’re not going to get anybody for peanuts,” Smith said.
Nathan Rietmann, of Rietmann & Rietmann LLC, who serves as legal counsel for the board, said the new district manager could be terminated for cause with 10 days notice and an opportunity for a hearing, according to the draft contract.
“He would have to not be performing his duties and it would need to be documented,” Rietmann said. “An at-will employee you can let go for no reason.”
Irrigator Tim Parks, who attended the meeting, expressed a concern he said was being voiced by some in the community that the board was making the decision amid an effort to recall Cheyne and Smith from the board. Petitions have been filed to recall Cheyne, Smith, and Knoll on allegations of “questionable decisionmaking” and “poor performance (that) compromised KID’s ability to perform its duties.”
Wrongdoing has been denied by both Cheyne and Smith. Only petitions for Cheyne and Smith have been verified, and a recall election is scheduled to occur between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 12 at the KID office.
“I don’t know why we can’t wait and see if you guys (Cheyne and Smith) aren’t recalled,” Parks said.
“I would that we could wait and see how this goes down and then make a decision at that point.”
Klamath Falls irrigator Marcy Anderson countered Parks’ comment.
“The important thing is, we need a manager in there … now,” Anderson said. “The water he can learn, the ditches he can learn. He’s got an assistant manager and the watermaster. We need to plug holes in KID where money just leaks out everywhere … Let’s plug the big holes first and then we’ll deal with the water.”
The next KID board meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Wednesday.