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Incentives program stumbles on performance disconnect

By Staff | Aug 13, 2011

Cape Coral City Manager Gary King submitted his proposed performance pay goals for the new fiscal year this week.

He has proposed 11 initiatives that, if accomplished, would add $27,500 to his base salary of $132,500 next year.

With city council yet to discuss the issue, it’s already drawing debate, both within the community and the Cape’s municipal workforce.

The controversy should come as no surprise.

Not only is Mr. King’s proposal, by his current contract, two months overdue, it sets the stage for a substantial increase in compensation – about 6 percent overall or 26 percent to the incentives portion alone – at a time when the city has implemented furloughs, curtailed raises and asked for wage reductions and benefit cuts while eliminating dozens upon dozens of un-filled positions.

Mr. King’s performance initiatives list for 2011-2012 also asks that he receive that extra pay for what, in some instances, could easily be construed as core duties. He proposes, for example, a $3,000 payment for delivering a balanced budget using the millage rate cap set by council within its directive to keep two months operational costs in reserves.

And he wants his money – all of it due per initiative -even if the incoming council directs his efforts elsewhere and he and the new board don’t agree as to what those new initiatives should be and how much they are worth to his pocketbook if accomplished.

What Mr. King’s proposal lacks in political acumen, it more than makes up for in unabashed chutzpah.

Council consideration should prove interesting.

We suggest a couple of things.

One, while performance incentives are a management tool that can work, council should address whether its experiment has been implemented and executed properly.

We think it has not.

Mr. King’s recent annual evaluation would suggest that, at best, the achievement of incentive goals and the associated cash compensation has somehow taken priority over day-to day-performance.

While awarding Mr. King $17,500 from this year’s maximum of $20,000, council, overall, gave Mr. King a tepid performance review, ranking him a 2.4 out of a possible 4. A 2 is “satisfactory” performance.

This is not a good thing – one would expect goal achievement to equate to an either “high performing” or “outstanding” evaluation, a 3 or a 4, respectively.

Instead, what was proffered by council itself was a disconnect between achievement of goals that carry a monetary benefit with an overall “grade” of failing to perform above and beyond within the basic duty structure. This is even more troubling considering that Mr. King has majority support on council, and that this very council keyed goal achievement as its performance benchmark.

While much was said about the upside of pay-for-performance when council went this route for the first time last year, little was mentioned of its downside: That while any manager worth his or her salt usually can and will achieve goals linked to cash in pocket, that’s not always beneficial to the organization as a whole.

That brings us to our second point – call it incentive pay, call it performance compensation, or use that dirty word and call it a bonus, it’s a hard sell when the city is telling taxpayers and employees alike that the Cape is in dire financial straits:

No money for capital projects.

No money for service “extras.”

No money to fill vacancies.

No money for raises called for in contracts with pay cuts proffered in their stead.

Well, no raises and pay cuts suggested for most employees with contracts, anyway.

In lieu of a new, expanded incentives plan, council can simplify its conflicted process by considering a suggestion offered by Councilmember Bill Deile.

Take a look at Mr. King’s achievements, take into account his overall performance and address his base compensation.

Then take it a step further – do so in light of current economic realities and Mr. King’s recommendations for the employees he leads.

It’s simple, it’s straightforward and it’s fair.

And if Mr. King is the manager this city needs, we have full confidence all of his – and more importantly council’s -goals and incentives still will be achieved.

– Breeze editorial