The debate over hiring James Nichols to be the next Douglas County manager came down to dollars.
Balking at a $180,000 a year proposed salary, county commissioners haggled for two hours before deciding on $172,000, which was $2,000 a year less than Nichols was making in Midland, Texas.
With an average 32-percent benefit package, the lower salary brings the cost to the county to $227,000 a year. The base salary approved by commissioners is only $1,000 less than former County Manager Steve Mokrohisky was making in both salary and benefits.
Douglas County Employee’s Association Vice President Shawnyne Garren said she was shocked when she read the $180,000 proposal.
“Even $170,000 is a bitter pill to swallow,” she said. “I’m concerned by the message sent to county employees by offering this man a salary just $5,000 from the top salary range.”
County employee Kim O’Hair agreed.
“We were hurt by the inflated salary offered to this man,” she said. “Start this gentleman lower and let him prove himself.”
Resident Carl Schnock said he felt the county should be focusing on what it can afford, not what executives in other jurisdictions are making.
“The method is flawed if you don’t look at what the county can afford,” he said.
County commissioners’ opinions ranged from Barry Penzel, who said he’d be willing to consider offering $160,000, to Doug Johnson who suggested $175,000.
It was commissioner Greg Lynn who suggested $172,000.
That figure is close to what Carson City paid its new manager, a job for which Nichols was a finalist.
Recruiter Phil McKenney told commissioners that most applicants don’t look for a new position looking to take a pay cut.
“He’s taking a risk by coming here,” McKenney said. “Most applicants don’t look for a new position and say they’re going to take a 15-percent pay cut.”
Lynn replied that the county is also taking a chance.
“We’re hiring an unknown with some very vocal opposition from residents and employees,” he said. “Even if we started him out at $160,000, if he was here for any length of time he would be at $180,000.”
Nichols was former Las Vegas deputy city manager for two years and assistant city manager in Midland, Texas, from 2011 until March 2014.
A proposed $76,000 transfer out of the contingency fund related to the county manager’s salary was pulled from the agenda.
Interim County Manager Larry Werner said the additional money wasn’t related to the hiring of Nichols, but was the result of both Mokrohisky’s pay-out and his own salary over the intervening months.
County commissioners decided to offer the job to Nichols in August after interviewing the four finalists.