Kent city manager gets a 5% raise and has no plans to leave

Kent City Council's Dec. 15, 2021, meeting

Kent City Manager Dave Ruller is receiving a 5% raise, the first he’s accepted since 2019. City leaders say he’s earned it.

The rate hike moves Ruller from $158,493 to $166,417 on the salary scale and is retroactive to June 15, 2021.

“Those look like big numbers if you’re not making that, but it’s not big numbers compared to a competitive job market in a private industry. I think we’re very lucky that Dave is applying his skill here in the City of Kent,” Council Member Gwen Rosenberg said.

City Council approved Ruller’s raise on Feb. 16, specifying 3% for 2022 and another 2% “to partially catch him up to the rest of the city employees, who received a 2.75% increase in 2020,” when Ruller got nothing, Finance Director Rhonda Hall said.

Except Ruller, all city employees, union and nonunion alike, received a 2.75% raise in 2020 and a 3% raise in 2022, Hall said. No raises were awarded in 2021.

“You don’t want to lose someone like Dave,” Council Member Jack Amrhein said. “You don’t want to lose people who work hard to get us through a difficult time. When you work hard, you should be rewarded. I feel bad that some people aren’t, especially in restaurants and businesses hard hit from the pandemic. However, that doesn’t mean that we don’t reward somebody who has gone above and beyond.”

Though council discussed (but did not offer) Ruller a raise in the past couple years, the city manager made it clear that he would not accept one during the pandemic, Amrhein and Council Member Roger Sidoti said.

Instead, Ruller and his team focused on keeping Kent in business. City leaders cut non-salary, operational costs by 20%, ordered all department heads to watch their spending, and did not award raises in 2021, Hall said.

It worked.

Council waited until local economic reports showed full employment, which means more jobs than people to fill them, until income tax revenue approached pre-Covid levels, and until the Social Security Administration reported wage increases across all sectors of the economy, Ruller said.

“This man was in the midst of a pandemic. The city didn’t close. He is working with [Commissioner] Joan Seidel from the health department, the police department, the fire department. He is doing everything he can to make sure that the city is running smoothly,” Amrhein said.

Not that Ruller raised the possibility of moving on, but city council, as his employer, felt duty-bound to retain his talent, Rosenberg said.

“Good managers don’t wait until their employee has a complaint and is about to leave before they say, ‘Wait, you’ve been doing a good job.’ You have to be proactive in keeping the people that you have that are excelling and rewarding them with pay raises and letting them know that they’re doing a great job through your words and your actions,” she said.

According to 2020 U.S. Census data and Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission salary studies conducted in 2019 and 2021, city managers in five cities in Central Ohio earned between $141,036 and $210,036 in 2019, and between $165,256 and $211,645 in 2021. None of those cities (Delaware, Dublin, Hilliard, Upper Arlington, and Westerville) are college towns, or claimed population numbers close to Kent’s combined student and city population of just over 54,000.

Viewed in that light, Ruller’s salary bump is in line, if not below what other Ohio cities with fewer people are paying.

So why does he stay?

“Kent is my home,” Ruller said. “I’ve lived here longer than any other place in my life, raised my kids here, and feel a part of a community whose values resonate with my own. It’s rare to find a place with such a good fit, and I hope to retire here someday.”

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Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.