Salary increases approved for two MSD administrators

Longtime critic takes issue with pay hike for Theerman.

By EVAN YOUNG

The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District Board of Trustees voted unanimously last week to approve 2.5-percent pay increases for the district’s executive director and secretary-treasurer.

MSD Executive Director Jeff Theerman’s salary will increase to $198,219 from $193,384. Secretary-Treasurer Karl Tyminski will be paid $151,364, up from $147,672.

Trustees voted 6-0 on July 14 to approve ordinances granting the raises, suspending the rules to consider both introduction and adoption of the proposals at the same meeting.

Lance LeComb, MSD’s manager of public information, said the board believed a 2.5-percent pay increase was appropriate given the massive projects the district plans to undertake in the future to update its infrastructure.

“I will tell you that MSD is going to have a huge impact on our community over the next several decades,” LeComb said after last week’s meeting. “We’re going to be spending billions of dollars — billions with a ‘b’ — and you need to have competent, skilled people managing our operations.”

The district is “certainly cognizant of what’s going on in the community” but also must “be competitive with the private sector,” he said.

“Even during these down economic times, engineers, people with management skills, people with technical skills — they’re still in high demand,” LeComb said. “If you have an education, you’re still in high demand, and those are the types of folks we need to run our operations.

“You just can’t get by with just anybody off the street. We use engineers, we use certified professionals and we still have to be competitive in the marketplace.”

But University City resident Tom Sullivan, a longtime MSD critic, took issue with Theerman’s raise, telling trustees last week, “I’m not sure I can understand how in these times the district can justify such an increase.”

Sullivan cited a 2007 lawsuit filed against MSD by the state and federal government over alleged violations of the Clean Water Act. The district had plenty of time and money to comply with regulations and avoid litigation, but failed to do so, Sullivan has said.

Trustees recently approved a consent decree which will settle the suit. MSD must spend roughly $4.7 billion on improvements over the next 23 years as part of the agreement.

“You have to wonder, some of the things that have gone on, it seems like the district has been non-responsive to the government over the years,” Sullivan told the board. “It’s hard not to think that if the district had been a little more responsive, had been a little more on the ball, the government wouldn’t have brought the lawsuit.

“Given the fact that Jeff Theerman has been head of the district,” he added, “I think he would be the one to have to take most of the blame.”

Theerman previously received a raise in December 2008, when the board increased his salary to $193,384 from $185,947. He initially was paid a salary of $165,000 when he became executive director in June 2004.

Before that, Theerman was paid $140,578 as acting executive director and as director of operations. He joined MSD in 1984.

Tyminski last received a raise in March 2009, when trustees increased his pay to $147,672 from $141,993.

Salaries were frozen districtwide during fiscal 2011. MSD’s budget for fiscal 2012, which began July 1, includes a 2.5-percent salary increase for all unionized employees as part of a memorandum of understanding. Raises for non-union employees will be performance-based, LeComb said.