A just reward

Published 3:00 pm Saturday, December 1, 2007

By Staff
He didn’t ask for it, but he’s got it.
People will debate whether he deserves it. He does deserve it.
When the Washington City Council gave City Manager James C. Smith a $4,000 bonus this week, they and Smith had to realize that bonus — awarded for Smith’s efforts to improve the city’s finances — would not be well-received by some people. They are pointing out the city manager is paid more than $100,000 a year. They say it’s part of the city manager’s job to improve the city’s fiscal health.
That’s all true. And it’s also true that many people are rewarded with bonuses for performing above and beyond what’s expected of them. That’s what Smith has done since coming to Washington in January 2006.
It’s no secret the city’s overall financial health has been poor in recent years. It’s no secret that several financial problems surfaced during the nearly two years Smith has been on the job. It appears that unlike some previous city managers, Smith has done and is doing something to solve those problems.
For example, under his leadership and guidance, each of the city’s departments came in under budget at the end of the 2006-2007 fiscal year, which concluded June 30. That resulted in the city adding a little more than $1 million to its rainy-day fund after June 30. The city had expected that it would have to take $826,000 from that rainy-day fund to help balance its budget.
What Smith, the department heads and city employees were able to accomplish during that fiscal year was not dipping into the rainy-day fund but, instead, adding $1.05 million to it.
That’s a significant accomplishment. Council members know just how significant it is.
Councilman Archie Jennings, a financial advisor by profession, characterized Smith’s efforts to get each department to come in under budget as “fantastic leadership” and “excellence performance.”
It’s reasonable to conclude that under Smith’s leadership, the city’s financial health will continue to improve. That improvement should result in a more efficient city government. A more efficient city government should cut waste and reduce some expenses, resulting in the saving of tax dollars.
There’s no doubt more can be done to improve the city’s finances and make city government more efficient. The new City Council, which takes office Dec. 10, includes people who are going to work to make that happen. They’ll find an ally in Smith, who has acknowledged he and other city officials have more work to do when it comes to improving the city’s finances, especially the city’s enterprise funds.
But the problems that are there are not as menacing as they were when Smith became city manager in 2006.
This week, Jennings also said the bonus was awarded in “recognition of performance in the manager’s role” as a watchdog of city operations. Jennings said Smith’s financial management skills since he was hired have been “particularly impressive.”
Yes, they have been impressive.
There are those who will disagree. They are welcome to their opinions on the matter. Although they disagree, they also stand to benefit from a more efficient city government whose fiscal health appears to be improving day by day.
The one-time bonus awarded to Smith isn’t an early Christmas gift. He, with the assistance of city employees, earned it.