Council Opts To Keep Town Manager

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Payson Town Manager Rich Underkofler is still looking for another job, but the Payson Town Council has told him he's welcome to stay on if he doesn't find one to his liking.

In Underkofler's recently completed annual performance evaluation, five of the seven councilmembers indicated they are in favor of retaining him for at least another year. "The last question in the evaluation is whether I should be retained," he said.

But Underkofler, who is currently paid an annual salary of $75,672, is hoping to find another town to manage. "The mayor has offered to try and get me more money," Underkofler said, "but I'm looking for a salary that's higher than what I think Payson should pay its town manager."

While there has been ongoing speculation about Underkofler's standing with the council, both Mayor Ray Schum and Vice Mayor Dick Wolfe praised his performance.

"I'm perfectly happy with him," Schum said. "I want him to stay."

According to the mayor, there was a movement a year ago to "dump" Underkofler. "I was the swing vote to keep him here then," he said, "but now there seems to be a lot more support on the council."

Wolfe pointed out that town managers are "always looking to upgrade their careers in terms of salaries. If he weren't, I wouldn't think much of him," he said.

Councilmember Barbara Brewer was among those who voted to fire Underkofler a year ago. "I told him what my problems with him were, and he responded," Brewer said. "I felt he made many improvements in his efforts to work with councilmembers and staff members, and I give a person credit when he tries."

Rather than a contract, Underkofler is working under a letter of agreement to serve as town manager for three years. That agreement expires at the end of the fiscal year on July 1, 2001. But, he pointed out, "the council can terminate the agreement on 30 days notice, with or without cause, by a simple majority vote. Conversely, I can resign with 30 days notice."

In explaining Underkofler's support on the council, Schum said, "Rich has a few warts like everyone else, but I've been awfully close to a lot of city managers, and he is one of the better ones. He's extremely creative with money matters and at getting grants."

Wolfe agreed. "I've expressed some concerns about how he handles the council," he said, "and I'd like to see him be a little more progressive, but he definitely has some strengths. He's very bright. He's quick on his feet. He handles the public well. It's tough for anyone to work for seven bosses."

Councilmember Hoby Herron concurred. "You work for a boss, and when that boss changes you have to change. Rich is very outspoken," Herron said. "I like that. He's honest and upfront, and he works extremely hard."

And it's not that Underkofler doesn't like Payson.

"It would be difficult for me to find a nicer place to live and work," he said. "I'm just looking at a much higher salary."

Among his accomplishments in his five years as town manager, Underkofler cited the new police facility, the new fire station, the Payson Event Center, adding 69 acres to the parks system and $10.5 million in street and airport capital improvements.

"At the same time," he added, "the property tax rate has gone down by 1.4 mills per $100,000 of assessed value, and the assessed value has grown from $56.8 million to $106.3 million."

But as Herron observed, when you're a town manager, tomorrow is a new day.

"I don't know how many hundred people have come to me and said you have to get rid of him," he said. "I say, OK, you tell me what you want in a town manager. Most of them go away."

Brewer, for one, is looking for even more improvement. "He still needs to work on his leadership skills with department heads," she said.

But Schum pointed out an obvious advantage to having Underkofler stay on. "He doesn't want an increase in pay," the mayor said with a chuckle.

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