Lower Merion commissioners, after more than six hours of debate Wednesday night, voted 8-5 to approve a two-year contract for Township Manager Doug Cleland.
"I look upon this discussion as, how do we address excellence in Lower Merion?" Commissioner Rick Churchill told the board and residents gathered in the nearly full board room at the beginning of the human relations committee meeting. "Are we going to reward it, are we going to penalize it—what are we going to do?"
Commissioner Dan Bernheim, who along with Churchill and Commissioner Scott Zelov formed an ad hoc committee to draw up Cleland's new contract, summed up the contract—to expire Jan. 6, 2014, when the new board will reorganize—and the process used to shape it.
Cleland's base salary in 2012 will remain at $202,989; his base salary will increase 2 percent in 2013 to $207,049. With added longevity and deferred compensation benefits, Cleland's pay package will cost about $275,000 per year.
Many of the about 20 township residents who spoke during the public comment period expressed concern over the cost of the contract in the current economic climate, some noting that Cleland makes more money than the mayor of Philadelphia, the governor of Pennsylvania and every township manager from surrounding municipalities.
Several others, including former board Vice President Mark Taylor, who read a statement on behalf of a bipartisan group of 11 former commissioners, .
Commissioner Jenny Brown expressed concerns about the language used in multiple sections of the proposed contract and about the necessity of several added benefits—such as a township car and fuel, deferred compensation and longevity—and lamented that the board had not sought independent legal counsel in the matter.
Bernheim, who noted he wished he had received those comments in advance so he could provide more adequate responses, addressed Brown's concerns.
Commissioner Steve Lindner said he believed the whole process of providing Cleland with a new contract had taken too long and emphasized the importance of keeping Cleland with the township so he could pass on all of his expertise to a successor. Aside from the numbers, there are other costs, Lindner said.
"There's a cost to replace, a cost of morale—none of that shows up in a contract," Lindner said. "I vote to keep the continuity of the township."
Brown made several motions to amend the contract, none of which passed. If any had passed, it would have caused the contract to be tabled once again.
"To an objective observer, most commissioners on this board are blinded by their affection for Doug Cleland," Brown said. "If we were not looking at Doug Cleland, we would not be looking at a compensation package that cost $275,000."
Republican commissioners Brown, Zelov and Lew Gould voted against the contract, along with Democratic commissioners Brian Gordon and Cheryl Gelber in an 8-5 vote; Commissioner Phil Rosenzweig had asked to be excused from the meeting.