If one person can do three at once are cities overpaying?
Carl Johnson’s bosses say the accountant has unique skills and has always done an outstanding job.
The Canton man also may be the most unusual municipal employee in Michigan. He has held down three high-level positions in three different cities at the same time — and collected hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars in the process.
Johnson is currently under contract as the finance director for the city of River Rouge. He’s also the finance director for the city of Novi. In February, he even held a third job as the finance director for the city of Oak Park, though he left that job at the end of the month, according to City Manager Erik Tungate.
An accountant who worked for 15 years for the regional accounting firm Plante Moran, Johnson has now applied for the position of controller for Northfield Township. According to the minutes from a March board meeting, he’s now a finalist for the job. If he’s picked, Johnson will back to working three full-time positions.
But Lisa Givens, executive assistant to the River Rouge mayor, said that Johnson quit pursuing the job in Northfield Township after accepting the job with her city.
According to Northfield Township documents, however, Johnson applied for the job as township controller on Feb. 23 and listed on his resume that he was employed by River Rouge.
Northfield Township administrative assistant Jennifer Carlisle said the township's controller position has yet to be filled. Carlisle didn't give an answer when asked if Johnson was still in the running.
Johnson also worked three full-time positions in 2015. He started working for Novi in January 2014. He was contracted to work as the city manager for the city of Montrose starting in September 2014. In July 2015, he was hired at Oak Park for his third position. Tungate said Johnson resigned his position at Montrose in August 2015 to concentrate on his two other jobs.
Johnson received $90,000 a year from Oak Park and $120,100 a year from Novi, according to the city administrators at both cities. When asked for the amount of Johnson’s salary, a River Rouge official advised Michigan Capitol Confidential to submit a Freedom of Information Act request. But Givens did say that the city pays Johnson $30,000 less a year than its previous finance director.
Johnson didn’t respond to an email seeking comment. Two of his bosses did respond and said he was a high-quality employee and that they were aware of his duties in other municipalities.
Oak Park has a population of 29,752 and the city employs 152 employees. Novi has a population of 58,723 and the the city employs 255 people. River Rouge has a population of 7,546. Novi and River Rouge are about 30 miles apart. Northfield Township is 48 miles away from River Rouge.
Johnson is not the first high-level employee to hold two high-level jobs in two cities at the same time, though the earlier situations were less transparent. In 2013, the Detroit Free Press reported that while he was serving as public safety administrator in Flint, Barnett Jones was also working as the chief of security for Detroit’s water department. Jones was paid a combined $273,750 for both jobs but resigned his Flint position shortly after his status became the subject of news stories.
Tungate said in an email there is a crisis in local government in Michigan; there is, he said, a “shortage of qualified candidates in many of the most critical roles including finance director.”
“Carl is a very unique individual with a unique skill set whom I trusted when he worked for me,” Tungate said.
Novi City Manager Peter Auger said many of his employees have other jobs.
“I believe talented, driven individuals can do a lot more than those who watch a time clock,” Auger said in an email. “We have many talented individuals in our organization; some teach, own other business ventures, practice law, and donate their time to sit on boards. When you hire good people they will be in demand. I enjoy hiring the best and seeing them succeed and thrive with their talents and hard work.”
Auger added, “The city of Novi finances have never been better. Since Mr. Johnson has exercised leadership in our community, we continue to win budget awards and have seen bond rating upgrades by both Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s.”
River Rouge's Givens said Johnson had worked previously for the city “and has always done an outstanding job.”