Interim City Manager Jon Amundson

City Manager Cindy Reents’ departure after 13 years running Richland did not relieved the tension at city hall. Tuesday night five of the councilmembers bickered over how to replace her. Councilmembers Sandra Kent and Bob Thompson were absent.

The council disagreed on the terms for Assistant City Manager Jon Amundson’s interim city manager contract. The majority views Amundson’s status as probationary while they keep their options open.

On Tuesday night the council argued back and forth as to whether the interim contract should last until June 30, 2021, Oct. 31, 2021, or Dec. 31, 2021. They also debated the previously announced 10 percent salary increase.

Councilmember Phil Lemley favored hiring Amundson after a short probation period and paying him a salary and benefits commensurate with the compensation received by other city managers in the Tri-Cities. Lemley pointed out that Amundson had been assistant city manager for almost 13 years.

He said, “You need to pay what the job deserves. He can do and will do the job. We can hire Jon as city manager and have a smooth transition.”

According to the Tri-City Herald 2018 salary data base, the city paid Cindy Reents $197,101.60 and Jon Amundson $148,250.40 in salary and benefits. The increases since then have been about two percent a year.

Based on documents that The Observer obtained through a record request, Reents’ interim city manager salary in 2007 was about $163,000 in today’s dollars, almost equivalent to what the council is offering Amundson.

Christensen felt that a 10 percent increase was good through the probationary period. He added, “In a year, he could get a bump and be more in line with other Tri-Cities’ city managers.”

Lemley replied, “I totally disagree. You are penalizing him for a year. We may have the most complex city in the state. You sound like you’re assuming that he can’t do the job.”

Councilmember Alvarez commented that only a city manager with 10 to 15 years’ experience should receive Reents’ salary. “I have to be responsible to city taxpayers,” he said.

As she often does, Councilmember Marianne Boring tried to take the middle ground. While saying that she agreed with Lemley she also said, “The probationary period is customary. I’m okay with the Dec. 31 date.”

According to Mayor Ryan Lukson, the council needs until Dec. 31 to decide because, he said, “We work like snails.”

Lukson made a motion to have the council appoint him to work with outside counsel on the interim contract based on the council’s recommendations for a Dec. 31 end date and a 10 percent raise. Only Lemley voted no.

Lemley was the only councilmember to support Reents when she and the council agreed to part ways.

That didn’t end the bickering. While it was unclear what comment provoked it, both Christensen and Alvarez directed harsh words at Lemley during the councilmembers’ comment period.

Christensen referred to Lemley’s comments as a “rant” and then said, “Don’t tell people what I’m thinking. Your voice is becoming small in this matter.”

Alvarez said, “I appreciate your comments but don’t assume what I’m thinking.”

Lukson gave no indication as to when he expected the contract to be completed.