Robert Layton is going to get his first raise Tuesday in the four years he has been Wichita’s city manager.
The raise, which the city has been contractually obligated to give him for the past three years, has been delayed by mutual agreement during the economic downturn.
It’s time for that delay to end, Mayor Carl Brewer and Vice Mayor Janet Miller said Monday as they and Layton outlined some of the challenges before the city manager..
“Bob has been an excellent financial steward for the city,” the mayor said. “When he came on board, we immediately ran into some very significant financial challenges, and he certainly has come forward and given the council the information to make some very difficult decisions.”
Layton now is paid $189,625 annually. His raise will be made public Tuesday.
“We have a legal document that we need to fulfill,” Miller said. “Secondly, he is and has been deserving of this raise for three years but like we put every city employee off, we put his off too. It’s appropriate now that Bob be compensated for the skills and abilities he brings to this job.”
Eliminating significant city budget deficits and clarifying the council’s management style have been Layton’s major accomplishments, he and Brewer agreed.
“Oh, my God. When Bob came here he inherited quite a bit,” Brewer said. “There was the finances, and we had gotten to the point in City Hall where council members were trying to manage first-level supervisors and on up. Bob managed to deal very well with the financial situation, and he got us back in perspective where employees managed employees and council members made policy decisions. He’s been able to get things done here in a reasonable way.”
Layton and the council developed a set of core priorities and city services that had to be protected, beginning in 2009, and then began to construct budgets around those priorities.
“Generally, I’ve been proud that we’ve been able to reinvent ourselves over the last four years in tough times,” Layton said.
But, there are council members who are frustrated with the city’s ongoing struggle to “put its best foot forward to the public,” as council member Pete Meitzner put it.
So Layton is leading an effort to improve citizen engagement and communication.
“Our goal is to announce some new initiatives for citizen engagement later this year,” Layton said, “to get greater input early on from our citizens in project development that makes a difference.”
Meitzner said the city must get better at “bragging, at telling our own story.”
“We do some pretty good things down here,” he said. “We have a good story to tell, but we’re not very good at telling it.”
Layton acknowledged that he has drawn some flak from city business leaders for not changing the culture at City Hall — primarily not moving out department heads who have run afoul of those business leaders.
Miller said City Hall’s culture has been changed without any brain drain.
“There’s always room for improvement, but I think those kind of comments come more frequently from people who haven’t been actively involved with the city for as long as some of us. I see a change at City Hall already that is so radical and significant that it’s hard for me to be critical because I think there’s been a significant amount of change,” Miller said.
To the city manager, significant culture changes lie in continuing efforts to become more responsive, not changing every face on his staff. Layton wants improved performance from city staff in customer service and processes, particularly with area businesses that have complained about “the trouble getting an answer from City Hall,” he said.
“We have to continue to move away from doing things on our time, at our speed and by our rules,” he said. “We need to continue to streamline processes and be more responsive.”
That’s a work in process, the city manager said.
“I don’t know that we’re as bad as those who indicted us four years ago like to think,” he said. “I’d heard horror stories before I came here, and I found that to be somewhat isolated.”