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West Valley City Journal

City Council votes to not renew city manager’s contract, with intentions to renegotiate

Jan 06, 2023 11:59AM ● By Travis Barton

The West Valley City Council voted 6-1 to “decline to renew” Wayne Pyle’s contract, though two councilmembers said the plan is to renegotiate. (File photo City Journals)

Cities within Salt Lake County operate under slightly different forms of government. 

Some have what is called a “strong mayor” format which makes the mayor the CEO of the city and the city council as its legislative body. West Jordan recently voted to change its governance structure to this format. 

Others have a council-manager format where the city manager serves as the de facto CEO of the city while the mayor serves as chair of the city council. The city manager and their staff operate under the guidance of the council, similar to a board at a corporation. 

West Valley City is under the council-manager format with its city manager running the day-to-day operations. 

Just before Thanksgiving, the West Valley City Council voted 6-1 to “decline to renew” Wayne Pyle’s contract, though two councilmembers said the plan is to renegotiate.

“There is a certain and definite intention to renegotiate,” Councilman Jake Fitisemanu said prior to the vote on Nov. 22. “There are some of us who just had maybe one sticking point with the current contract, others who had more, which brought us to the point of considering not renewing. Not necessarily terminating but with the intention of renegotiating around some of these sticking points.”

Pyle, West Valley’s city manager for the past 20 years, signed a five-year contract in 2018 that is set to expire May 31 of 2023. Under the current employment agreement, the city has 180 days prior to May 31 to provide notice of its intention not to renew otherwise the contract renews automatically. 

The council held three closed session meetings in November to discuss pending litigation and a person’s character, competency and/or health. The first lasted 90 minutes, the second lasted almost two hours and the third lasted 35 minutes—after which Mayor Karen Lang instructed staff to draft two resolutions. One to decline to renew the city manager’s contract and the second would be the same with an added line that a new contract would be negotiated. 

The resolution passed by the council only included language that the council “does not wish to renew said Employment Agreement.” 

Councilman Lars Nordfelt, the lone dissenting vote, wanted clarification during the study meeting prior to the vote that “our intention is to negotiate a contract early in this 180-day time period.” 

Lang responded saying “legal has some things they have to do first and then we can move that way.” 

The council has a slightly different look to the last time such a vote took place. In 2018, Councilmembers Scott Harmon and William Whetstone were not on the council, while Lang, Fitisemanu, Nordfelt, Tom Huynh and Don Christensen all were. 

In a tight 4-3 vote, the council approved Pyle’s current contract with the dissenting votes (Lang, Huynh and then-mayor Ron Bigelow) feeling like it gave Pyle too much leverage. While city staff felt it gave Pyle peace of mind, having previously operated in his position without a contract.