Though some are complaining that the salary for the recently hired Sylva town manager is high for her level of experience, the compensation is below the state average for towns in that population range.
For towns with a population of 2,500-4,999, the average salary is $71,446, according to a N.C. League of Municipalities survey from last July. The new Sylva Town Manager Adrienne D. Isenhower will make $60,678 a year.
Sylva has a population of about 2,500, while Canton, which hired a new town manager last week and has a population of 4,200, is paying the position $77,002. The new Canton manager, however, had been assistant town manager for about eight years and is a past Maggie Valley town manager, said Canton Mayor Pat Smathers.
Also of concern is Isenhower’s amount of experience.
Sylva town board members Harold Hensley and Ray Lewis voted against hiring her because they think she lacks experience, especially in key areas of managing a budget.
Isenhower has three years of experience with the city of Lenoir as well as internships.
Smathers said he thinks that is ample experience to move up to being manager for a town the size of Sylva.
“To be a city planner in a city the size of Lenoir and then move on to a manager position in a town the size of Sylva is a natural progression,” said Smathers.
As the population of a town increases, so does the salary for the manager. For instance, the town manager in Waynesville, which has a population just under 10,000, makes $110,768 a year.
The salary for the town of Bryson City, population 1,492, is $51,958.
Hensley and Lewis questioned why the new manager would make more than former manager Jay Denton who was fired in September. Denton was making $53,000 a year.
Denton also questioned the thinking of commissioners Stacy Knotts, Sarah Graham and Maurice Moody on paying the new manager more than he was getting paid.
“If I was sitting on that board I would think that was high,” Denton told The Smoky Mountain News.
Denton said salaries should be based on experience.
“In my expert opinion that is a fair salary for an experienced manager. They fired me when I was doing a good job and providing services,” said Denton. “And they hired someone with no experience in management.”
Denton said he started out making $45,000 three years ago, and he has a master’s in public administration like Isenhower, but he also had almost three years of experience as the Jackson County manager.
“The board gave me pay raises based on what they thought I should make for the performance I was giving them,” said Denton.
Salaries are also based on the size of a town’s budget and the number of employees it has. Sylva has about 27 employees and a $2.26 million budget.
Ninety percent of a town manager’s job is managing a budget, said Denton. The budget he put together last year was very tight and the town will have to dip into its reserve fund to cover the new manager’s salary, according to Denton.
Hensley said he supported David Steinbicker of Sylva for the manager position because he is a lawyer, CPA, and oversaw a $37 million budget for the Jackson County Board of Education.
He can’t understand why Graham, Moody and Knotts would support Isenhower over Steinbicker.
“It’s beyond me,” Hensley said. “I’m dumbfounded.”
Knotts would not elaborate on why she didn’t support Steinbicker, saying it’s a personnel matter.
Mayor Brenda Oliver did not vote on the town manager but said she thinks Isenhower will do a great job. Oliver particularly liked Isenhower’s planning background and thinks the salary is “appropriate.”
Oliver also liked that Isenhower graduated from Appalachian State University. Oliver said ASU has one of the best public administration master’s programs in the country.
Denton, who graduated from Western Carolina University in Sylva with a master’s in public administration, said WCU’s program is just as good, if not better, than ASU’s.