All were professional-engineer-certified, but when they were informed of the salary, all 13 withdrew their names from consideration for the job, Davis said. The city again lost top-tier recruitments for the post on a second round, officials said.
"Make no mistake: The proposed wages are not sufficient to recruit and relocate qualified people," Davis said. "They are sufficient to keep people we have developed here."
Councilman David Gordon said in the current economic downturn, already robust job security, health and retirement benefits should be enough to attract and retain quality employees.
"It is hard to believe and accept that a public utility must pay disproportionally high salaries when so many highly skilled and experienced professionals are unemployed and more than eager to accept a six-figure salary and benefit-package job offer," Gordon said. "Pay raises should not be based on utility revenue, particularly when recommendations for rate hikes directly benefit and skew the scales in favor of the employee being considered for a pay raise."
Several senior positions have been filled with so-called second-career candidates — qualified professionals who recently retired from careers elsewhere and are interested in working at a new utility for one to five years. Along with difficulties recruiting outside candidates, the utility is also facing significant challenges of retaining workers.
Two assistant general managers, both of whom were instrumental in planning the city's smart grid, have either retired or taken another job, Councilman Gary Bric said. The cost of the raises for 2010-11 would be covered by carried-over savings from vacant senior positions.
"Mr. Davis has been unsuccessful trying to fill these positions for the past year and a half," Bric said. "It's especially unfortunate at having just passed the 2010-11 budget that this is coming before us at this time, but it seems that we really don't have much of a choice."