Portsmouth town manager gets new three-year contract

4-3 vote follows lengthy debate over town audit

EastBayRI.com ·

PORTSMOUTH — In a 4-3 vote Monday night, the Town Council granted a three-year contract extension to Town Administrator Richard Rainer, Jr., who first came aboard as manager in July 2015.

Under the agreement Mr. Rainer will earn an annual base salary of $128,740 for the length of the contract, which begins July 1, 2018, and ends June 30, 2021. That represents a 2.5-percent increase over his current salary of $125,600

The original draft of the contract allowed for an increase equal to the consumer price index or 2 percent — whichever is greater — over the remaining two years, but both parties agreed to strike that provision.

The contract allows for five weeks’ vacation and 20 sick days per year. 

Voting for the contract were Council President Keith Hamilton, Council Vice-President Kevin Aguiar and members J. Mark Ryan and Linda Ujifusa. Voting against were council members David Gleason, Elizabeth Pedro and Paul Kesson.

Mr. Gleason called Mr. Rainer’s salary “overly generous” and said he didn’t like comparisons being made between the administrator’s pay and the top-level school district employees. He said the manager is “still on a learning curve on the experience side.” 

Ms. Pedro agreed, saying the differences between Mr. Rainer’s contract and the school superintendent’s were “stated over and over” during negotiations. “I just don’t like the comparison. It’s not a reason,” she said.

(The Portsmouth school superintendent’s salary is $158,140, according to the R.I. Department of Revenue.)

Mr. Kesson said he didn’t like the manager’s contract because it seemed specifically drawn up for Mr. Rainer and that he would prefer a standardized, “boiler plate” agreement.

Ms. Ujifusa countered that it’s unrealistic to “standardize a very unique position” such as town administrator. “He is underpaid compared to other town administrators in comparable towns,” she added.

Mr. Aguiar said the contract was a “very well-structured agreement” with a salary that was fair to taxpayers. “He should have a contract that’s commiserate with other positions in town,” Mr. Aguiar said.

Mr. Rainer, a retired Navy executive, succeeded John Klimm, who left the Portsmouth administrator’s job in 2015 to become city manager in Aiken, S.C. Mr. Rainer, who spent more than 30 years in the Navy, was one of 57 original candidates for the Portsmouth manager’s job.

Audit presented

The vote on extending Mr. Rainer’s contract was originally scheduled to be heard earlier in the evening, but the council voted 4-3 to hold off until it heard a presentation on the 2017 fiscal year audit by Hague, Sahady & Co. of Fall River.

“The audit is the only document where we get to see how well we manage day-to-day operations,” said Mr. Kesson, who made to motion to delay the vote on the administrator’s contract. He was supported by Mr. Hamilton, Ms. Pedro and Mr. Gleason, while Dr. Ryan, Ms. Ujifusa and Mr. Aguiar voted against.

The audit presentation was contentious at times, with several councilors and audience members questioning the town’s accounting methods in paying a $800,000 settlement reached during a lawsuit over the Heidi Drive extension. 

A representative from Hague, Sahady & Co. said the transaction was “unique” in that it crossed over two fiscal years and “skewed both bottom lines.” The town took $200,000 from its surplus and borrowed $600,000 to in order to pay the settlement on time, which led to both a revenue shortfall and an over-expenditure, she said. In hindsight, the town should have included an amendment to its 2016 budget, she said.

Larry Fitzmorris of the taxpayer group Portsmouth Concerned Citizens peppered the council with questions over the financial reporting of the settlement payment, but Mr. Hamilton said the town has since hired a new finance director, John Menke, and “corrections have been made.”

“The controls were lax and they will be corrected,” Mr. Hamilton said. “I’m glad this audit is done and that this is behind us.”

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