2016-04-07 / Front Page

Pact Pays $178,500 Per Year

By Tom Walsh

Veteran Newport City Solicitor Joseph J. Nicholson Jr. moved closer to formally gaining the city manager’s job on Wednesday, April 6, as the City Council, after an 18-minute closed “executive session” at police headquarters, agreed to move his proposed $178,500-a-year-contract to a formal council vote on April 13.

If the contract is ratified by the seven-member council, Nicholson’s proposed salary would make him Rhode Island’s highest paid municipal chief executive. Advertisements for the job had listed a salary range of $140,000 to $180,000.

Although terms of the contract were not formally disclosed, sources told Newport This Week that in addition to the salary, the proposed pact includes: y A three-year term effective June 30. The contract can be renegotiated at the end of three years; y A $400-a-month car allowance. While former city manager Jane Howington had a city car under her agreement, sources said Nicholson prefers to use his own car for city business; y 25 days a year for vacation; y 30 days for sick leave; y Family health insurance, for which Nicholson will pay 20 percent; y Performance reviews annually by Jan. 31; y A 90-day notice if either the city or Nicholson should seek to dissolve the agreement.

Napolitano said there was little or no controversy among councilors at the brief session on Wednesday morning. The proposed contract is on the council’s formal docket for consideration at its April 13 regular meeting.

Howington, whose resignation in July 2014 ignited Newport’s topsy turvy, 22-month city manager saga, was paid a base salary of $140,000 a year as manager. Other benefits brought her compensation package to $150,000 or more annually. That was the highest city manager’s salary in Newport history –until now.

“Part and parcel of this whole issue is what a number of council members have said to me—that is, we’re too low on salary for the complexity of the city manager’s job in Newport,” Napolitano told Newport This Week. “So we had to look at increasing that.” She said other council members feel the same way.

“I feel like in Joe we’re getting a twofer, between his legal experience with the city and his ability to manage. Joe’s going to be worth his weight in gold. With Joe, I don’t believe there is a learning curve,” she said.

Under the city’s proposed agreement with Nicholson, he would have to eventually give up his law practice.

“Of course, he still has some obligations to clients,” Napolitano said. “That’s a significant issue here. The courts would require him to do that, and Joe has to be involved with that process.”

The mayor said there is no deadline for Nicholson to wrap up his legal business. She said, though, that he has already begun to transfer clients to his law partners and she hopes the situation can be cleared up as soon as possible.

Should the council vote to formally ratify Nicholson’s contract, it would mark the end of a process that began in July 2014 when Howington announced she was resigning to take the city manager’s job in Hudson, Ohio.

Not long afterwards, Nicholson agreed to fill the manager’s post on an interim basis until the council could find Howington’s successor. Initially, the former city solicitor was adamant that he had no interest in assuming the city manager position permanently— even though it was clear by then that there was already considerable support within the council for Nicholson to be the next manager.

At that point the council hired a Connecticut firm, Randi Frank Consulting LLC, to guide a search for Howington’s successor. The firm recommended 50 possible candidates to the council, which eventually rejected all of them. After that experience, the council chose to launch its own search. This effort, led by Michael J. Coury, Newport human resources administrator, and a local steering committee, produced 73 city manager applicants from as far away as British Columbia, Canada.

Through all of this, Nicholson continued to impress councilors and others with the way he handled the city manager’s post, even on an interim basis. And then, in late February of this year, the council finally got its man.

Nicholson, saying he wanted to continue working on initiatives such as the proposed Innovation Hub, a 60-acre applied research and technology center to be located in the city’s North End, said he had changed his mind and wanted to be considered for the manager’s job.

Next Wednesday evening, the job may officially be his.

What Other R.I. Managers Make

The $178,500 that Joseph J. Nicholson Jr., would make as Newport’s next city manager puts him at the top of the list among Rhode Island’s municipal chief executives, according to figures provided by the state Division of Municipal Finance.

Not far behind the negotiated Nicholson salary is:

.Middletown Town Administrator Shawn J. Brown, whose base salary in the current fiscal year stands at $155,000. Brown also gets another $9,688 in “longevity and other payments.” The total for Brown this fiscal year: $164,688.

Rounding out the Aquidneck Island communities is:

.Portsmouth, where Town Administrator Richard A. Rainer Jr. is paid $120,000 in base salary and $3,600 in other payments for a total of $123,600.

.Jamestown, Town Administrator James E. Nota is paid a base salary of $111,286.

.Tiverton Town Administrator Matthew J. Wojcik makes $91,350 a year, all in base salary.

Elsewhere:

.Barrington Town Manager Peter A. DeAngelis Jr. is paid $153,000 in base salary and $12,240 in other payments for a total of $165,240.

.East Providence City Manager Richard E. Kirby makes $145,000 in base salary annually.

.South Kingstown Town Manager Stephen A. Alfred makes $167,138 a year, with $162,414 in base pay and $4,724 in other pay.

.East Greenwich Town Manager Thomas E. Coyle III makes $144,819 annually, with $120,819 from base salary and $24,000 in longevity and other payments.

In the state’s largest municipality:

.Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza makes $112,500, all in base salary.

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