GAMBIER — A proposal to increase the village of Gambier mayor’s salary from $9,000 to $16,000 annually is scheduled to receive its second reading during the village council’s regular meeting Monday night. Mayor Kachen Kimmell and two key members of the city’s Police and Personnel Committee reaffirmed their positions this week: The 78 percent increase is in line with what other comparable communities pay their mayors.
During the Oct. 7 village council meeting, Councilor Betsy Heer said the “optics and timing of this are terrible” because the proposed mayor increase came less than a month before Tuesday’s Nov. 5 election, which only has one mayor candidate on the ballot — Leeman Kessler, a fellow councilor in his first term. Councilor Liz Forman also called the proposal “terrible timing” because Kessler is running unopposed and because the public was not made aware of the proposed increase months before the November election.
As a proposed amendment to the salary ordinance, Heer asked that the salary increase be incremented in stages. But she did not receive a second on her motion.
Kimmell, and councilors Phil Brooks and Harold Ballard, who sit on the Police and Personnel Committee, discussed this week the criticism the proposed increase has received. Brooks and Ballard offered comments Monday during the committee’s monthly meeting. Brooks said the $16,000 figure came from looking at comparably-sized Ohio municipalities with similar demographics and what they pay their mayors. The village of Hiram, with 1,242 residents according to the 2010 Census and 1,244 current students, pays its mayor $15,000 annually — an amount set to exceed $20,000 next year based on an ordinance the village has already passed, he said. Hiram College is a small liberal arts college and in the same athletic conference as Kenyon.
The village of Hebron, where Gambier Village Administrator RC Wise worked previously for six years, also pays its mayor $15,000, and carried a 2010 Census population of 2,336. And in Bellville it’s $16,000, Brooks said.
“On the surface, Hiram looks very much like Gambier to me,” Brooks offered.
Ballard said his view involves looking at what two of the nation’s largest employers, Amazon and Target, pay their employees — with both announcing they plan to pay their lowest-paid employees a starting wage of $15 per hour in the near future. A half-time mayor of Gambier at $15 per hour would make $15,600 a year. Ballard offered that the village of Gambier and its elected officials know that their mayor is worth paying at least what a checkout cashier earns at Target. He added that Mayor Kimmell has demonstrated a high standard of ethics in her four years of mayoral service, and would not propose boosting what the mayor earns unless she felt it was overdue. She would not benefit from it directly, only the next mayor and those after him will, he noted.
The Mount Vernon News asked Kimmell for her views on what Gambier, a village with 2,391 residents at the 2010 Census, which currently includes 1,734 Kenyon College students, pays its mayor compared to other Knox County villages. According to 2010 Census data, Centerburg has 1,773 residents and pays its mayor $7,200. Danville, with a population of 1,104, pays its mayor $5,000. And Fredericktown, with a population of 2,493, pays its mayor $7,950. That number will increase to $8,700 in January of 2020 to return to what the Fredericktown mayor made previously before an economic downturn caused the village council to lower the salary, Village Administrator Bruce Snell said Monday.
Kimmell offered that in Knox County it is Fredericktown, which has a larger General Fund than Gambier, providing the most similarity to Gambier by population. But she emphasized that the mayor of Gambier helps oversee a village area that includes a town-and-gown relationship with a prestigious undergraduate college, Kenyon, which has an annual operating budget of $150 million.
Starting in 2001 and for the next 14 years, the Gambier mayor’s salary was $6,000, according to Gambier fiscal officer Kathi Schonauer. Then in July of 2015, four months before Kimmell was elected, the salary was increased to $9,000.
Candidates running for elective office are required to turn in required forms at least 90 days before the November election, Kimmell noted, which would not have given those interested in running for mayor in 2015 much time to be made aware of the salary increase. Kimmell ran against current Councilors Heer and Forman.
Meanwhile, the current proposed increase of 78 percent was presented on first reading of its ordinance on Oct. 7 — 29 days before Tuesday’s election. Heer and Forman said had village residents known of the proposed increase months in advance, some might have considered running for mayor.
Kimmell said Monday the timing of the proposed ordinance was deemed to be legally permissible by village Solicitor Clinton Bailey. She also said points for or against the proposed increase boil down to a few arguments. One argument is from those on council who believe the mayor is a public servant and should be paid a low salary. Another argument comes from those who want to keep the salary low because they don’t want to attract candidates most interested in the job because of a higher salary offered, she said. So not putting forward the proposed increase until past the mayoral filing deadline takes away anyone who might have run simply for the substantial pay boost that may go with the position.
On average, Kimmell said she puts in about 20 hours a week, and keeps regular office hours only on Wednesdays. But when the village of Gambier has had major issues before it — such as in 2016 when there were hearings about redeveloping the downtown area and buildings owned by Kenyon but along village streets — her hours per week was way up, she offered.
During a Sept. 26 Police and Personnel Committee meeting, Kimmell said, “I brought up a policy matter: That it would be good for the mayor (of Gambier) to be compensated in a measure equal to the stature of the village and in line with comparably sized communities.” She added that when committee members actually discussed what the new salary should be, she left the room. She also left the meeting during Monday’s salary discussion.
Kimmell, who does not work for Kenyon, said she believes that ethically, the mayor of Gambier should not be a Kenyon employee. Previous mayors who have had such ties have been forced to abstain from numerous votes due to potential conflicts, she said. And so have village council members with strong ties to the college.
The mayor-elect, Kessler, is a stay-at-home dad who is a Kenyon graduate and a homeowner, Kimmell said. His wife is the Kenyon College chaplain, Rachel Kessler, a Kenyon alumna who is the Priest-in-charge of Harcourt Parish. Leeman Kessler has abstained from discussing the mayor salary ordinance.
Kimmell said the Kesslers represent the next generation of Gambier residents who wish to make a positive impact on their community. “He (Kessler) will be able to attend important meetings during the day, and that’s important,” she offered.
The rest of this article is available to our subscribers.
Do your part to support local journalism
Subscribe to our e-edition to read this and many other articles written by your neighbors.