Planning Director Contracts

Dear Management Doctor:

I am currently interviewing for a new director position within my current government. I was advised that I should try to get a contract for that position. I am one of those who "grew up in the system" as it were and have never done that before. Do you have any advice or tips on when to bring it up and what to ask for?


Dear Concerned:

In my 25 years in government, I never had a contact. However, given the volatile nature of planning director jobs, I think it is a good idea. Hopefully some of our emailers have contracts and can help us out. A few things I would want to have:

  1. Severance pay on termination. Maybe six months or so many months for each year of employment.
  2. All professional dues and attendance at one national and one state conference per year.
  3. Continuing education reimbursement
  4. Maybe a car and car allowance
  5. Annual vacation, sick leave allocation and holidays
  6. Health benefits including six-month continuation upon termination
  7. Retirement benefits and vesting of same
  8. Check out what other city executives receive and make certain you get the same or better
  9. Check to see if any other city executives have contracts or check with surrounding cities
  10. Many city managers have contracts. Maybe ICMA would have some ideas.

Let us know how it turns out,

The Management Doctor

Reader Responses

I can certainly testify first hand as to the value of an employment contract. In 1987, I was probably one of the few Planning Director's in the nation that had an employment contract. Trust me, it was extremely comforting to know that I had a 6-month severance package when I made the decision not to hire the Commission Chair's business partner as the comprehensive plan's consultant.

Department heads have tremendous pressure on them to make tough calls, particularly Planning Directors. Those that are on the frontlines creating better communities are often pushing the comfort zone within the development community. As we know, Planning Directors and their staff are frequently caught between what is best for the community versus what is politically expedient.

The Management Doctor gave excellent advice as to the content of an employment contract. But, in the case of employee who "grew up in the system," they will have a tough time getting local government to agree to a contract — it's much easier as a potential new hire. One piece of additional advice, an Employment Contract not only offers you a chance to spell out your "perks" but it also offers the opportunity to share with the governing body your areas of responsibility, performance standards, expected staffing levels, and your expectations related to the position.

BTW, City Managers have had employment contracts for years — ICMA has a Model contract but I would suggest not including all of their model — in some ways it favors local government — not what YOU want in YOUR contract — wait until THEY suggest those additions.

Good Luck,
Connie Cooper, FAICP
Dallas, TX

I never had a contract as a Planning Manager. As a Community Development Director I have both had and not had a contract. I think, in the San Francisco Bay Area at least, it is still relatively unusual to have a contract as a Department Head. Certainly, they don't resemble a City Manager's contract in the amount of topics and detail. Mine dealt with one issue only--the City Manager had the right to let me go but must either give me three months notice or three months pay.

As a Department Head, I've found that some things are negotiable on hiring and some aren't--and you don't need a contract to negotiate them. Salary, up to a point, has always been negotiable; same for leave. Car allowance, education reimbursement, training support, etc. . . have never been negotiable; I've gotten whatever the position had been allocated or the City's programs had in place.

Valerie Barone
City of Walnut Creek

This is becoming more and more common. I have such a contract with the County where I work and it follows several of the points you noted. This is standard practice here for the CAO and a lot of the newer Department Heads that have come on board the past two years. It was very important to me to have the extended salary and health guarantee as I am the single wage earner for my family. I also receive all the other standard County employee benefits. The contract allows the CAO to work out with the Department Heads reasonable goals and expectations that we can then refer to in periodic updates to decision makers which helps a lot. I would also recommend people have contracts set up to have any perks like car allowance count towards salary for retirement purposes.

Art Henriques
San Benito County, CA

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