Next week, members of will decide if their city manager is worth another $2,800 a year.
During executive session last week, council discussed their annual review of Dave Ruller's performance. The result of that discussion? Council proposed giving Ruller a 2.5 percent raise that would increase his salary from $113,359 to $116,193.
Now, you should consider a few things before you jump on the anti-spending wagon.
First, consider all the development work going on downtown.
Many people — and rightly so — give the lion's share of the credit for downtown Kent's rebirth to developer Ron Burbick, who has invested more than $10 million in the past few years breathing new life into his adopted hometown.
But you have to trace downtown Kent's resurgence back a little further than the completion of the first phase of and the Phoenix Project.
Ruller came to Kent in 2005 just as was experiencing its own major leadership transition as Carol Cartwright retired and Lester Lefton took over as president. It was a time of uncertainty on both sides of the town-gown relationship despite the completion just a year earlier of the Bicentennial Plan — a document designed to strengthen Kent by improving connections between the university and city.
Almost immediately, Ruller started pushing to meet with university officials to encourage the idea of remaking Kent as a true college town in the image of other strong college communities such as Boulder, CO, and Ann Arbor, MI.
There was a bit of reluctance at first, but eventually university and city leaders overcame a past hesitancy to work together and started collaborating on ideas to improve Kent's status as a college town.
Today, projects like the , the and the Tannery are examples of what such a partnership can produce.
And that renewed partnership didn't go unnoticed. Leaders in Congress and at the federal level saw the promise in Kent and awarded the community the $20 million grant crucial to construction of the , which will tie together — and provide parking for — all the downtown redevelopment work.
Not only governmental leaders take note — Kent has received millions in state and federal grants in the past five years — but businesses saw the opportunity as well, thus Burbick's efforts.
Ruller can certainly hang his hat on the development hook. He played a crucial role in establishing all the partnerships that have had to happen to make what's going on downtown possible.
But his administration has also maintained a solid financial status while cities all over the nation have entered shaky ground financially. That's not to say the city is flush with cash — departmental budgets have been flat for the past several years as income tax revenue dropped — but they've managed well. And income tax receipts are slowly starting to recover.
And, despite a budget crunch, the city's frontline employees — clerks, police, firefighters and maintenance men — have received regular raises ranging from 2 percent to 3 percent for the past several years.
One interesting fact was this year. A citizen's committee formed earlier this year for council members, and council accepted the recommendation despite having the authority to set its own pay rate. That in itself says council members recognize who should get the credit for the city's ongoing rebirth.
I would encourage members of council to vote in favor of Ruller's raise next week, but they should consider one thing: the law of diminishing returns.
Kent is, after all, Kent — a town of about 28,000 people with as many or more students coming to town each fall. But it's still Kent; a town built on the backs of millers, farmers, railroad men and millwrights. Eventually, this ongoing rebirth will settle down. Leadership raises shouldn't come like clockwork, and a city manager's position in a city like Kent is only worth so much.