First praise for Texas city manager who fired himself, then scorn for how savings are spent

Forgive me, but when I heard that Keller City Manager Dan O’Leary had fired himself, I thought the city was going to save a lot of money. Others thought so, too.

O’Leary was hailed by budget hawks everywhere.

EmpowerTexans/Texans for Fiscal Responsibility named him “an Honorary Taxpayer Champion.

“At the very least, he should be considered a hero to all taxpayers,” the group said on its website.

From coast to coast, the news traveled fast, even making the syndicated News of the Weird.

Weird to me was the complete candor of the outgoing city manager. He told Keller Citizen reporter Susan McFarland: “It’s a little unusual for a city of our size to have three city managers. … There was a time that was needed, but at this point in time, I don’t think we need three city managers.”

He went further on KRLD NewsRadio 1080: “There came a point … where I realized that there wasn’t enough work for all three city managers, and quite honestly, in some respects, I could tell the days were getting a little longer and I was getting a little more and more bored.”

O’Leary’s $176,000 annual salary was suddenly wiped off the books. That’s a nice savings for a town of about 40,000 people.

Or is it?

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Dan O’Leary (Photo from Star-Telegram archives)

As readers of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram Dave Lieber Watchdog column first learned, Watchdog Nation discovered that the savings have largely evaporated. After salary increases were granted to four top employees, including the new city manager, only $55,000 in savings are likely, City Manager Steve Polasek said.

The raises cost $75,000 in base pay and more in benefits. According to a flowchart presented by Polasek to council, the city is adding a $55,000-a-year management assistant, too.

Polasek, who was one of O’Leary’s two assistant managers, replaced O’Leary in late April. He reorganized the top management structure to plug the supervisory hole caused by his old boss’s departure. O’Leary’s desire for one fewer assistant city manager was part of the plan. After Polasek was promoted to the top job, he wasn’t replaced.

The City Council agreed to pay Polasek $169,500 a year, a raise of $39,460 for the first-time city manager.

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Steve Polasek, new city manager

Assistant City Manager Chris Fuller was promoted to deputy city manager and given a $15,000 raise to $145,000.

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Chris Fuller, now deputy city manager

Police Chief Mark Hafner was promoted to director of public safety/chief of police and also given a $15,000 raise to $145,000.

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Mark Hafner, now Director of Public Safety

Community Development Manager Tom Elgin was promoted to director of community development and given a $5,000 raise to $95,000.

Polasek’s reasoning? The four managers, including him, have new responsibilities.

Fuller has two new departments to supervise. Hafner now oversees the Fire Department, too. Elgin also has more oversight duties, Polasek said.

“We didn’t hand out raises,” the city manager said. “We gave them new titles to fit the work that they’re doing, and then we provided salaries that are commensurate with what the position calls for.”

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He showed me charts that compare the salaries of similar jobs in other area cities. Keller managers are paid below the average of their peers elsewhere, he said.

However, city employees received a 1 percent raise last year, their first in three years. They also received a one-time $1,500 stipend. Also, more than 20 staff positions have been eliminated in the last two years, Polasek said.

There may have been a public misunderstanding in the way O’Leary’s departure was presented, Polasek said. O’Leary “didn’t clarify the situation. He didn’t do that intentionally. But he left a very large hole, and we were able to fill it, but it comes at a cost.”

Mayor Pat McGrail agreed: “The way it was played up, everybody just assumed we were saving the salary dollars of an assistant city manager. Well, that obviously wasn’t a true number, and we never depicted it as that.

Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong

In a coincidence, weeks before O’Leary announced his resignation, Watchdog Nation founder Dave Lieber and the author of this story, took this photo of Dan O’Leary (left) and Mayor Pat McGrail while he led them on a tour of the new Star-Telegram newsroom. Lieber originally tweeted the photo.

“We basically said, ‘We’ll save money as far as the overall expense of the management team.’ At the end of the day, we’re still spending less money than we did before.”

The mayor said he and other council members support Polasek’s reorganization.

O’Leary, now unemployed, told me that he was disappointed by the news about the savings. But “the move I made there wasn’t necessarily motivated by saving my salary. It was pretty much just the fact that we had too many upper-level managers in general in terms of workload.

“The money was secondary. It wasn’t to save $175,000. It was a move to say, ‘You’ve got too many managers at the top of this.’

“There was a little overreaction to it, I think.”

Don’t worry about O’Leary, though. Starting in June 2012, he will be Duncanville’s city manager.

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Read how Keller’s neighboring city of Fort Worth also reclassified the job of 100 City Hall employees and gave secret raises. Another Watchdog Nation report.

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Here’s what Keller City Councilman Doug Miller wrote on his Beyond Right Field blog about this:

“Speaking of controversy, looks like Dave Lieber is going to do a column on how the City of Keller is squandering money this Sunday. Let me lay it out for you, after Dan O’Leary’s departure, the City Council hired Steve Polasek to take his place with an increase in salary from his salary as an Assistant City Manager. Steve gave Chris Fuller extra responsibilities by taking over two more departments, with that responsibility came a promotion of sorts and an increase in salary. Steve also created a Director of Public Safety and inserted Chief Hafner in that position, and with an increase in responsibility came an increase in Salary. Steve also created a position to handle Special Projects. There is always something going on in town that the Council directs the Staff to do, and this person will handle taking care of those projects.

“All in all, the City will still save over $60,000 a year from where we were a month ago, but apparently Dave Lieber felt that the City should be saving the entire salary of Dan O’Leary with his departure.  In fact, the Council knew before we hired Steve officially of his plans, and he had our blessings from day one.  We aren’t stupid, we knew part of the reason O’Leary made his exit the way he did is to make him look better for his next job.  Nobody expected the story to go internationally the way it did though, and we all expected a little bit of blow back after that happened.  (In fact, it was Steve that warned us of it weeks ago)  Sunday’s column is part of that blow back.  I told Steve that as long as the column doesn’t feature him living in a 10,000 square foot mansion and driving a Bentley on the weekend, I was fine with it.  (If you want to laugh harder, ask Steve to show you his vehicle….then you’ll get the joke).”

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Keller Councilman Doug Miller

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  1. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, public officals abhore a budget surplus. If there is money they will spend it. Government at a levels needs less money and should provide fewer services.