The dollars and cents that fuel ‘the best small town in America’

Paradise Valley Town Hall at 6401 E. Lincoln Drive serves as the hub for most town leaders. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

It takes special people to operate a special town such as Paradise Valley, officials there say while reviewing the salaries of 11 key municipal players that over see the day-to-day operations of the “best small town in America.”

Through a recent records request, the fiscal year 2018-19 salaries of Paradise Valley’s department heads and municipal leaders were provided. The fiscal year began on July 1, 2018, and salary discussions occur during the town’s annual budget discussions, town officials say.

The records request provided the following employee’s exact salaries, excluding Interim Town Manager Brian Dalke, as he is paid through a contract with a temporary staffing firm.

• Chief Financial Officer Douglas Allen: $127,002
• Chief Information Officer Steven R. Brunasso: $124,920
• Deputy Town Manager Dawn Marie Buckland: $160,103
• Human Resources Manager Jinnett Hancock: $105,854
• Community Development Director Jeremy Knapp: $120,000
• Building Safety Manager and Fire Marshall Robert Lee: $131,493
• Senior Planner Paul Michaud: $93,754
• Town Attorney Andrew Miller: $182,000
• Town Engineer Paul Mood: $132,207
• Public Works Director Brent Skoglund: $120,000
• Police Chief Peter Wingert: $152,917.

In total, the municipality pays $1,450,250 to these Paradise Valley leaders.

From left is Councilwoman Ellen Andeen, Town Attorney Andrew Miller, Interim Town Manager Brian Dalke, Deputy Town Manager Dawn Marie Buckland and Town Clerk Duncan Miller. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

The town manager and town attorney pay and benefits are set exclusively by the Town Council and mayor, while other employees that are subordinate to the town manager and town attorney have their salaries set by the town manager.

Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner used the example of an organization whose board sets policy and a range of compensation, and the CEO — or town manager — implements that strategy to reward employees who report directly and indirectly through department heads and other senior-level employees, to the manager.

Employees undergo regular performance assessments, Mr. Bien-Willner says, and the town has the benefit of an in-house human resources director who reports to the town manager.

Competitive in all aspects

Mr. Bien-Willner and Councilwoman Ellen Andeen both say the town leaders’ salaries are justified to offer high-quality service to the town’s stakeholders and align with Paradise Valley values.

“The town and its leaders have high expectations from our skilled, experienced and dedicated professional staff,” Mr. Bien-Willner said.

Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

“We benefit from having many key, long-term employees who are truly top notch; in a relatively small organization such as the town’s, retaining top employees who are familiar with the town and its values is important.”

Mr. Bien-Willner points to the town’s governing structure when describing the justification for such salaries.

“In our town, with its focus on ‘limited government,’ it is also the case that many of our employees wear several hats, and even our most senior-level employees are very hands-on and directly involved in carrying out the town’s objectives,” he explained.

“Our town is also unique in that very few of our staff members, historically and currently, live in the town — they commute in from other neighboring municipalities.”

In general, Mr. Bien-Willner says it has been the council’s and his own belief that the town’s salaries are set to attract and retain top-quality talent, “from whom the council, our residents and stakeholders expect a great deal of skill and service,” he said.

“That stated, the council also reviews these matters on an annual basis in connection with the budgeting process and in its annual performance review of the town manager and town attorney — the only two town employees who report directly to the mayor and council.”

Mr. Bien-Willer says he will be focused on employee compensation and staffing levels while they discuss these matters during the next budget season.

“As we begin budget discussions soon, I will be focused on leading this discussion as the town’s new mayor to ensure that we are focused on high performance, customer service, bringing out the best in our people, and keeping to our tradition of limited, nimble, and effective government,” he said.

Councilwoman Ellen Andeen (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

Town Council freshman, Ms. Andeen, who comes from the corporate world, also points to the town’s limited government system identifying that many paid positions in other cities and towns are volunteer positions within the Town of Paradise Valley.

“This means our overall budget of employee compensation compared to surrounding communities is lower than most municipalities because we have a lower number of paid employees,” Ms. Andeen said. “For example, our entire judiciary for the town are volunteers who serve with no compensation or pension.”

She pointed out that a culture, which supports pay for performance, includes a well-defined performance evaluation system, checks and balances to ensure fairness and compliance, training and development, and skills, experience and performance as elements to consider.

“In doing my homework, I reviewed the pay structure of one of our neighboring larger municipalities to see how our town compared. It is difficult to compare since these are not apples to apples municipalities as other cities and towns have many more positions than the Town of Paradise Valley,” she said.

“Further, there would be additional factors to consider based on skills, knowledge, experience and performances of employees. Generally, the compensation appeared to be commensurate with those in surrounding communities. Differences noted seemed to be based on longevity and experience.”

Comparing the town to her business background, Ms. Andeen says this supports the concept that Paradise Valley needs to attract and retain top talent, and should employ a competitive total compensation package to include additional items than just pay.

“A good wellness program can be helpful in several ways to our town employee,” she said.

The councilwoman says that the “how” is just as important as the “what” in assessing performance.

“How a department head/municipal leader lives our mission, vision and core values is important — subjective — but should be included in a performance management system,” she said. “For our town to retain top talent we need to be competitive in all aspects of our compensation and performance management system.”

News Editor Melissa Rosequist can be reached by e-mail at or follow her on Twitter at

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