Duluth City Council approves shorter contract extension for city's chief administrative officer
Some councilors raised questions about a possible conflict of interest.
A contract for Duluth's top municipal job — second only to the mayor's office — was unanimously approved by the City Council on Monday, likely securing Noah Schuchman an additional three years in his post as the city's chief administrative officer.
Schuchman was not present at Monday's meeting due to a death in his family, according to Mayor Emily Larson.
Under the approved contract, Schuchman's salary will remain unchanged from its current level of $160,000 per year.
But in subsequent years, it will rise in step with raises negotiated with a bargaining unit called the City of Duluth Supervisory Association, or CDSA.
That arrangement concerned at large Councilor Derek Medved, as Schuchman is part of the management team that bargains union contracts on behalf of the city. Medved raised the question of a conflict of interest.
Meanwhile, 2nd District Councilor said: "Based on information the mayor has provided, I am comfortable with that. And the reason for that is we have a long-established precedent where members of the CDSA serve on the management-side negotiating committee for CDSA. So, that satisfied me, while there's no perfect solution, that this is a reasonable solution with precedent,"
Initially, Larson had proposed a four-year contract extension for Schuchman, but she agreed to a shorter three-year term, following a proposal by at large Councilor Terese Tomanek to amend the terms.
The duration of the contract is consistent with Schuchman's previous employment agreement. While Sipress said he would prefer a two-year term to coincide with Larson's mayoral term, he voiced support for a slightly longer duration.
"My perspective is that ideally, it's my view that CAO contracts should not carry over past a mayoral election, because you then bind a potential successor to maintain a CAO, and I think it's important for mayors to maintain the ability to put together a leadership team," he said.
The way the contract is written, Sipress noted, unless the CAO's employment is terminated for just cause, the jobholder is entitled to a severance package equivalent to half a year's pay, making it difficult to turn an incumbent in the job out of office.
"I said it Thursday, and I'll say it again, even though he's not here, that I do think Mr. Schuchman is doing a great job," said at large Councilor Arik Forsman.
"I also think that as he's coming up on his second term here, continuing to seek growth and development opportunities and to seek input from councilors and staff and a full well-rounded group of stakeholders is always a good idea. So, I would encourage that for his own journey, developing and growing in that position. But I am comfortable moving forward with this tonight. And I appreciate working with him," Forsman said.