WALLA WALLA - In the midst of a Port of Walla Walla Commission race that has had candidates embattled over leadership at the agency, the salary of the organization's executive director fell on criticism Thursday.
Walla Walla resident Norm Osterman told the three Port commissioners he believes they've been "snookered" and are overpaying Executive Director Jim Kuntz.
He said Kuntz's $134,726 base salary and a $25,000 "deferred compensation" amount combine for an annual salary that's higher than the state attorney general's and closer to the governor's.
"There is no reasonable way to justify the amount he receives," Osterman read from a prepared statement during the public comment portion of Thursday's commission meeting.
"What do you commissioners plan to do? Please take control," he said. "When do you cast your votes for next year's remuneration package?"
The three commissioners did not comment on the salary decision. Commission President Mike Fredrickson, the incumbent for the lone commission seat up for re-election, said the agency's budget retreat is scheduled for Nov. 21. Sometime after that commissioners will vote on the 2012 budget, which would also presumably include the salary and any deferred compensation decision for its executive director.
After the meeting, which was attended by Fredrickson's challenger Barlow Corkrum, Kuntz said via email he had no comment on the matter.
Osterman, a citizen who has been an active watchdog of Port business over the years, said Port commissioners have repeatedly told him the Washington Public Ports Association serves as a guide for establishing the executive director's salary.
However, Osterman said the Public Ports Association does not collect specific information beyond base salaries or salary ranges for executive directors. It would be impossible to use the agency's information as a guide, he said.
Based on Kuntz's deferred compensation - an amount he'll receive in whole if he stays through the end of the year - Osterman believes Walla Walla's Port director is the fourth highest paid in the state.
The Public Ports Association only asks whether deferred compensation is offered to executive directors of its member Ports. It does not ask for details on what the compensation is.
Port of Walla Walla Commissioner Paul Schneidmiller said Kuntz's base salary appears in line with comparable Port districts.
"From what I see Jim is right in the middle of the mix" of other Ports in the same class, Schneidmiller said.
He pointed out that the number of employees at each Port district and the operating revenues must also be considered when determining salary.
According to the Public Ports Association's data, the Port of Walla Walla has 18 employees, a 2011 budget of $13.5 million and gross operating revenues of $4.3 million. When the budget was approved at the end of last December, the Port had adopted a roughly $12 million budget - about $7.5 million for the Port and $4.3 million for the airport. The agency then reported having about 131/2 employees.
In a previous interview before the primary election, Fredrickson acknowledged Kuntz's salary has been a discussion point for some voters. He said at the time he would be open to reconsidering the terms of Kuntz's deferred compensation. He said Kuntz's salary matches the market rate for an executive director who has been in the position 25 years.
Kuntz became executive director of the Port in 1990. Before that he served as manager of the Walla Walla Regional Airport.