Weinberger is paying Owens $80 an hour to tie up loose ends on the various projects he was leading. The mayor said Owens, who is currently working about 24 hours a week, will likely get a paycheck through the end of August.
“He is doing some work to ensure the orderly transition of all these critical projects to someone else,” Weinberger said. Those projects include developing CEDO’s 2017 budget, working on the Great Streets Initiative, the Champlain Parkway, the renovation of City Hall Park, and selling the Browns Court property to Champlain College.
“It is not unusual for the city to either have directors continue on until their replacement starts or to be available to the city,” Weinberger said. He’ll be asking the council to allocate $10,000 in the upcoming fiscal year’s budget to cover the additional expense.
Weinberger defended the hourly rate. “He’s a professional,” he said of Owens, whose annual salary was $92,500. “I think that is appropriate compensation for someone working in the professional role he is.”
“I honestly think it’s quite fair and quite consistent with what we’ve done,” said Owens, noting that his pay is commensurate with what the city paid three former assistant directors who continued to do work for CEDO after leaving their jobs. They were paid $50 an hour, according to Owens; their annual salaries at CEDO had ranged from $43,000 to $60,000.
Progressive councilor Max Tracy questioned whether the arrangement is necessary. “I wonder why we are continuing to pay him 80 dollars an hour when we have a very capable and talented acting director who has been doing significant management work for that department for years now — and who I think is perfectly qualified to do it.” He continued, “With a department that has had challenges with funding in the last couple years, I think we need to be careful of the money that gets spent there.”
Other councilors say it’s a justifiable use of funds. Council president Jane Knodell, also a Progressive, said, “I really don’t have a problem with it. He’s going to be completing some projects that he’s been working on that would otherwise languish. It’s for a limited period of time, and it will help with the transition to the new director.”
Republican councilor Kurt Wright added, “I don’t think it’s that unusual. It’s happened a number of times before.”