In one of Del Mar’s most closely watched decisions of the past six months, the City Council this week agreed to extend City Manager Scott Huth’s contract into February 2020, raise his salary by 2 percent and award him a 4 percent bonus.
The council’s Feb. 5 decision also amends Huth’s contract so that the city is obligated for a maximum of six months of severance pay—rather than nine months—if Huth were to be fired without cause. Together with a contractually obligated 3 percent cost-of-living increase, Huth will make $230,000 this year, compared to his base salary last year of $211,000.
The 3-2 decision came over the protest of dozens of Del Mar residents still fuming over how Huth handled the investigation and eventual firing of Pat Vergne, Del Mar’s longtime chief lifeguard. Last year’s uproar spurred the council to bring in an outside expert to review Huth’s performance in unprecedented detail.
That four-month review, which included an anonymous survey of the city’s top employees, gave Huth a “good” rating for his leadership on several massive endeavors: construction of the $17.6 million City Hall and civic center—Del Mar’s largest-ever capital endeavor—which is wrapping up on time and within budget; outreach and planning for the $5 million infrastructure facelift coming to downtown Del Mar over the next three years; preparations for Del Mar’s first-ever Breeders’ Cup; securing $1.2 million in federal funding to replace the Camino Del Mar River Bridge; development and roll-out of the city’s new architectural design guidelines; changes to the city’s parking code and new ordinances on temporary-use permits, accessory dwelling units and electric vehicle charging stations.
Two councilmembers—Terry Sinnott and Ellie Haviland—pored through the findings before recommending the raise, bonus and extension.
“We have a very aggressive list of priorities, things that we need to get done,” Haviland said. “I think we have a constituent base that wants us to get this done, and we have a city manager that has proven he can do that. I don’t have any reason to think he won’t continue providing that kind of leadership and those kinds of results.”
Sinnott added that part of their rationale was that a one-year extension avoids casting undue uncertainty over the city’s upcoming work and makes Huth’s long-term future a decision for the council elected after this year’s election.
The two “no” votes came from Mayor Dwight Worden and Deputy Mayor Dave Druker.
“In my over 40-year business career, a person with a ‘good’ rating at most deserves a cost-of-living increase, rarely deserves a merit increase, and never deserves a bonus,” Druker said.
Worden, despite opposing the raise and bonus, issued an unusually personal entreaty. He called on the residents to set aside their frustrations as the city turns its focus to the momentous year ahead, which will plunge Del Mar into contentious debates over sea-level rise, short-term vacation rentals and creation of a Del Mar police force, all while making crucial decisions on the Del Mar resort, Watermark condos and Garden Del Mar proposals.
“I’m not asking you to give up your position on Pat Vergne. But just remember: we have hugely important things pending in this city. We have three major development projects coming through right now. This is more activity of that type than we’ve had in decades. Those three projects are going to change this city forever, way beyond Scott Huth’s tenure—even if he dies here old and gray—and way beyond our tenure,” Worden said. “We need to be on our game if we’re going to manage those projects in a way that serves the community. We need to work together as a team. We need your help. … We can’t be at each other’s throats because we’re so angry about the Pat Vergne affair that we can’t do a good job on that stuff. So that’s my plea to you.”