Port of Walla Walla chief's pay cut

Jim Kuntz will receive about $10,000 less in 2012 than this year. His base salary rises, but his 'deferred compensation' is eliminated.

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WALLA WALLA -- Port of Walla Walla commissioners voted this morning to reduce the annual salary of the economic agency's executive director for 2012.

In a unanimous decision at the heated public session, the three commissioners adopted a $150,000 salary for Executive Director Jim Kuntz.

The change represents a nearly $10,000 reduction in Kuntz's 2011 salary through elimination of a controversial "deferred compensation" package.

Kuntz had previously been paid a base salary of $134,726. On top of that he received $25,000 in deferred compensation.

"With 40 percent of this county making under $20,000, $25,000 looks like a fortune," said city resident Carlin Bradshaw.

For next year, the deferred compensation will be combined into his salary.

Commissioner Paul Schneidmiller provided the motion for the change. He said consolidating the two figures creates a package that is more "straightforward and uncomplicated."

The decrease was not enough for local residents who turned out for the meeting.

Walla Walla resident Steven Rusch suggested Kuntz and all three Port commissioners should resign.

"Your behavior has not been good, and you are not good for Walla Walla," said Rusch, one of seven people to speak during the public comment period.

The morning meeting transitioned from an executive session centered on Kuntz's performance evaluation into a heated regular session where his salary was decided.

Several residents testified in public comments that Kuntz's salary is excessive for the size of the agency and not in line with other comparably sized port districts across the state.

Bradshaw said the agency's executive director compensation is disproportionate compared to other "Class A" Port Districts.

In the past, the Port has approved the salary based in part on other salaries posted through the Washington Public Ports Association.

But the WPPA's data includes mostly base salaries or ranges, not details about compensation packages.

Walla Walla resident Norm Osterman called Washington's Port districts individually to ask more about specifics.

Osterman said in 2011 Kuntz appeared to be among the highest paid Port directors in the state, behind those in Vancouver, Tacoma and Seattle.

Schneidmiller said he appreciated Osterman's efforts, which he said helped inform this morning's decision.

Osterman said the $150,000 salary is an improvement, but he would have liked to have seen an even larger decrease for 2012.

"It's not what I would do, but it goes in the direction of more justifiable," he said.

Commission President Mike Fredrickson said he's been fascinated to see how interested the public has been in salaries. He said he surveyed other public agencies to see what other directors make.

Fredrickson noted there hasn't been as much criticism for two other highly paid officials, Walla Walla City Manager Nabiel Shawa and Walla Walla Public Schools Superintendent Mick Miller.

But residents pointed out Shawa and Miller oversee staffs that number in the hundreds. The WPPA lists the number of employees at the Port of Walla Walla as 18; the Port lists 13 full-time equivalent positions.

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