by Pilar Pedraza
KWCH 12 Eyewitness News
4:41 PM CST, March 5, 2013
It was a tense evening in Herington Tuesday night as dozens packed the City Commission meeting to complain about a $15,000 pay raise for the city's manager.
The commission changed it's mind about the raise, but not enough according to people at the meeting.
The evening started out with high hopes as protestors gathered outside Herington's City Hall, armed with homemade signs and chanting slogans.
But hopes quickly turned to frustration, first for those who couldn't even get into the meeting. Local fire codes restrict the City Commission's chambers to just 53 people. So many came to Tuesday's meeting they couldn't all fit inside. Dozens were left standing in the lobby of City Hall.
"They knew this was going to be an outcry," said Chuck Miller. "They knew there were going to be a whole bunch of people here. I don't know why they didn't have a contingency plan."
Then, frustrations turned on the City Commission which voted to go into Executive Session almost as soon as the meeting began.
"Folks want to hear this, folks want to talk about it," said Bart Hinkle, who's been leading many of the protests.
An hour later, the Commission members returned only to immediately vote to go back into another executive session.
"A little frustrated," said Rick Freeman, who told Eyewitness News he came to the meeting at the request of a Commissioner, expecting to be able to share his views. He was disappointed not to be allowed to speak, but refused to leave until the issue was discussed. "But I'm going to hold out."
Herington residents gathered to speak out against a $15,000 pay raise for their City Manager, Ron Strickland. With the raise, he made $101,000 a year for managing a city of just over 2,400 people.
Once the City Commission returned a second time and moved on with the agenda, questions about Strickland's contract quickly turned into heated exchanges.
"Excuse me, don't sit here and belittle me," interrupted Strickland at one point, as Hinkle laid out why he thought Strickland was not a good city manager.
"Are you being a bully now?" someone asked from the crowd.
"No," replied Strickland. "But don't belittle me."
Later, there was another exchange between Hinkle and the City Attorney, Brad Jantz.
"Are you being surly?" Hinkle asked at one point as Jantz was explaining points of Strickland's contract.
"No, I'm being straight up with you," said Jantz.
"You're being surly," insisted Hinkle.
"No, I'm not," said Jantz. "You don't know me."
"I know surly."
"Not with me you don't."
Even the crowd began to grumble about some of the answers Hinkle was given, until the mayor, Robbin Bell, intervened.
"I'm going to ask you to please listen, we don't need this to get out of hand," said Bell, banging his gavel and threatening to have people removed from the chambers if they didn't quiet down.
Then the Commission moved to change it's mind.
"To modify the comprehensive package to an increase of $5,000 annually from the originally approved $15,000 increase," said Bell, introducing the motion. It passed unanimously. One commissioner praised Strickland for taking the cut in pay raise voluntarily. With the raise adjustment, Strickland will make $91,000 a year.
Almost immediately, the meeting was over. But the controversy continued. Some residents told Eyewitness News they're still unhappy with the situation and are considering a recall effort for all the City Commissioners.
As soon as the commission meeting was adjourned, the room emptied quickly. Eyewitness News was only able to catch up with three of the city commissioners, who all declined to comment on camera. City Manager Ron Strickland said he doesn't do his job for the money. He said he loves the town of Herington and has no intentions of leaving.
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