Starkville’s Board of Aldermen extended an offer to Sungman “Simon” Kim to become the city’s next Community Development Director on Tuesday after a lengthy discussion about his pay.
After the meeting, Kim told The Dispatch he will decide on accepting the position within a week. Should he accept the offer, he said he should begin working for the city within a month’s time.
Kim, who currently operates the Landform and Planning consulting firm in Brownsville, Texas, interviewed a second time for the position during Tuesday’s board meeting. Aldermen interviewed him and Richard Grana, of Destin, Florida, via Skype at the end of January.
Kim has 30 years of experience, a Ph.D. and a master’s degree in landscape architecture and a master’s degree in business administration. He’s worked abroad in South Korea and the United Kingdom. Domestically, he’s worked in Florida, Virginia and Texas, including his most recent job as the director of development services for the city of South Padre Island, Texas, from May 2013 to December 2017.
Aldermen voted 5-2, with Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins and Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn opposed, to offer Kim the position with an $88,500 annual salary.
Former Community Development Director Buddy Sanders made $75,020 annually.
Kim, answering a question from Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker, said he’s had experience working with cities that are developing, like Starkville, and thinks that can be beneficial to the city.
“I’ve been working with developing communities in the past and I know how to lead them and provide the right location to provide the right businesses,” Kim said. “I can work with them.
“Also, as a community development director, I would like to work with the public and provide transparent and fair services … and get their trust,” Kim added.
Kim spent the day in Starkville, including some time with the city’s staff. To a question from Mayor Lynn Spruill, he said he was impressed with some of the developments in town, thought the people were friendly and found city staff to have good character.
In response to a question from Ward 5 Alderman Patrick Miller, Kim said he’d like to, in his first 100 days, look at some projects that haven’t been completed and see if he can offer any solutions to help them along.
He added that he’d like to meet with those who might be critical of some of the city’s policies or procedures.
“I’d like to sit with them,” he said. “It’s not necessarily that I will be able to provide them a solution, but I would like to go to those critics and find if I can help them out.”
‘This salary is not fair’
Perkins sparked a lengthy discussion later in the meeting when he questioned whether the board was offering Kim too much money for a new department head.
He said while Kim had a “commendable” amount of education and experience, the proposed salary would make him the third highest-paid department head after Starkville Utilities Director Terry Kemp, who makes $106,510, and City Engineer Edward Kemp, who makes $89,150.
The two department heads above Kim have worked with the city for longer, Perkins said, and there are several who have worked with the city for years who still make less money than Kim would starting out.
“This salary is not fair,” Perkins said. “It is not equitable. It is not fair to even the two highest-paid department heads who have labored long and hard.”
Perkins also said after the meeting that three department heads — IT Director Joel Clements, Parks and Recreation Director Gerry Logan and Sanitation and Environmental Services Director Calvin Ware — make less than $70,000 and he’d like to see their pay increased to at least that threshold.
Walker, who moved to hire Kim and set the salary, said he picked a salary in the middle of the range the board set for the position, which is $78,000 to $98,000.
Ward 5 Alderman Patrick Miller said he thought the salary was fair, based on Kim’s qualifications.
“I don’t know that I’d want to pay someone with a Ph.D, two masters degrees, 30 years of experience who has run some fairly large cities the minimum of our salary range,” Miller said. “That’s just my philosophy. I think it’s appropriate and a good thought process to perhaps meet somewhere in the middle.”
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.
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