Colorado

Feb 25, 2014 11:51 PM by Zach Thaxton

Divided Council rejects 6-figure pay raise for Utilities CEO

Colorado Springs Utilities Chief Executive Officer Jerry Forte will not receive a controversial $171,000 pay raise.  Colorado Springs City Council voted 5-4 Tuesday afternoon to reject the proposed increase from Forte's current $336,252 salary and benefits to $498,575 for the next two years.

Forte had not received a pay increase in the past seven years and a nationwide survey of compensation for CEOs of similarly-sized utilities found that Forte's compensation was more than 45 percent below the median rate of $622,071.  Proponents of the raise, including Colorado Springs City Councilmember Jan Martin, said, despite the jaw-dropping dollar amount proposed for Forte's compensation, it was necessary in order to retain his longevity and experience amid the imminent retirements of other Utilities executives and ongoing major and complicated projects such as the potential decommissioning and replacement of the Drake Power Plant and construction of the Southern Delivery System water pipeline project.

Although most members of City Council agreed that incentivizing the Utilities CEO position for not only the incumbent, but also for potential recruits to the position once Forte retires, is important, but the staggering amount was too much for Councilman Andy Pico to swallow.  "It's an awfully big number, both in terms of the absolute number and also in terms of the percentage," Pico said.  Helen Collins was one of the five dissenting Councilmembers.  "The normal citizen, especially from southeast (Colorado Springs), is saying, 'You're asking for a rate increase, but then you're turning around and you're asking to give the CEO a tremendous raise," Collins said.

Four Councilmembers voted for the controversial increase, including Merv Bennett.  "Jerry Forte has created the environment for us to be one of the top ten utilities in the nation and I appreciate that," Bennett said.  "If you're going to have the best utility or a great utility -- and we do -- then you're going to have to pay for that talent to come in."

Forte is currently eligible for retirement.  He was not present for the vote on the fate of his proposed salary hike, but it was repeated numerous times that it was not Forte himself who asked for the raise, but rather it was the suggestion of the consultants commissioned for the survey.  As for Forte's future?  "What Jerry decides to do, I honestly can't say," Martin said.  "Jerry has done a great job.  Colorado Springs Utilities is now in the top ten utilities in the nation, and that doesn't happen by chance.  That happens with great leadership."

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