Bellingham authority director may get bigger paycheck than mayor

BELLINGHAM - The Public Development Authority may need to pay its executive director a salary well above what is being paid to Mayor Dan Pike, according to a consultant hired to conduct a candidate search.

The City Council set up the development authority in 2008, at Pike's urging, to spearhead development of city-owned real estate parcels. It is governed by a seven-member board that Pike appointed.

At a Tuesday, Jan. 6, meeting of the authority board, Jerry Oldani of The Waters Consulting Group Inc. said he was aware that according to the City Charter, city department heads' pay must be less than that of the mayor, who now makes about $121,000 a year.

"That ain't gonna get it," Oldani told the board.

He suggested that the development authority may need to pay $160,000 to $180,000 to attract a candidate with the skills needed to get the new agency rolling and to develop plans to profitably develop parcels of real estate now owned by the city.

In a telephone interview, City Attorney Joan Hoisington said the Public Development Authority has been established as a separate municipal corporation and is not subject to the City Charter salary limitation. Its director will be appointed by the authority board and will not answer to the mayor or City Council.

The authority is also expected to become self-supporting eventually, via sale or lease of city real estate parcels. But for now, the city treasury is providing the authority with its 2009 budget of $500,000.

The authority is also expected to return money to the city from its development projects, and the deals it puts together with private developers would be subject to City Council approval.

Among the parcels the authority will likely own or manage are the former RE Store property at 600 W. Holly St., the Colony Wharf property on the Bellingham waterfront, a recently acquired parcel at Maple Street and Cornwall Avenue, and property at the foot of Cornwall Avenue. Pike is also exploring the potential acquisition of other waterfront properties from the Port of Bellingham for development projects.

Authority board members seemed comfortable with the $160,000 to $180,000 salary range that Oldani suggested. Board member Rud Browne saw the higher salary as an investment that would pay off with higher returns.

City Council member Jack Weiss, who attended the meeting, observed that public reaction might not be 100 percent favorable.

"There's going to be, I think, a little bit of a shock factor," Weiss said.

Board Chairman Ken Hertz said board members need to be prepared to make the case for the high salary to a potentially skeptical public.

Hertz also asked Oldani what they would be giving up if they chose to pay less.

Oldani replied that the authority would likely have to settle for someone with less experience, or someone with development experience in a community smaller than Bellingham, instead of luring someone from a larger city.

Board members also suggested that the compensation for the executive director position could be partly performance-based.

Board member Bruce MacCormack, a venture capital investor, said the development authority is seeking "an entrepreneur, rather than a public servant," and the salary for the director's position needs to be competitive with the private sector.

"That's the difference we must keep on stressing," MacCormack said.

Oldani observed that the director would also need a solid understanding of government and politics.

"If not, that person is doomed," he said.

The authority board plans to make decisions on salary range and other specifications for the position in the next few weeks. Oldani said his firm, operating under a $19,500 contract, could have candidates ready for the board to interview within 90 to 120 days after that.

Reach John Stark at 715-2274 or john.stark@bellinghamherald.com