Beverly Hills has given its city manager a two-year contract that could yield a payoff of a year's salary or more if City Council members decide to fire him without cause.
The move brought the city in line with a nationwide trend to offer contracts to their chief administrative officers.
Elsewhere on the Westside, however, only West Hollywood has a similar agreement. The managers of Culver City and Santa Monica both work without contracts, as does the chief administrative officer of Los Angeles.
Although their responsibilities vary in different cities, city managers are generally the top-ranking professionals on a municipal staff, with other department heads reporting to them.
They can be fired by a vote of elected officials, but the Beverly Hills agreement, approved earlier this month, gives City Manager Edward S. Kreins a degree of job security not enjoyed by those without contracts.
Highest on the Westside
It also provides for a yearly salary of $92,880, the highest of any city manager on the Westside and more than double the nationwide average of $42,918.
Although Kreins still can be dismissed at any time, Mayor Edward I. Brown said the council has no intention of firing him. Kreins has been city manager for five years and was police chief for five years before that.
In fact, Brown said, the council hopes its action will keep Kreins from seeking work elsewhere.
"This is a security blanket for the council more than anything," Brown said.
Councilwoman Charlotte Spadaro, who abstained in the 4-0 vote to approve the contract, said later that she found little fault with Kreins' performance.
She said, however, that the council majority acted "to prevent the next council from doing anything to upset Ed Kreins" and that the action was not necessary.
Possible Changes on Council
Two seats on the five-member panel are up for election April 8, but Brown said any possible changes are "absolutely not" linked with the decision to give Kreins a contract.
"It didn't have anything to do with that," Brown said. "As far as the members are concerned, except for one abstention, he's done an excellent job and we see no reason why he can't continue to do a good job."
Kreins said he had worked for 8 mayors and 11 different council members and that he expects to get along with their successors in the future.
"Why should it be any different now?" he asked. "This has no relation to any election, nor do I have a concern about an election. I feel I can work for any council member." In any case, he said, it is rare that city managers are asked to leave their posts without cause.
After 30 years in city government, he said, "I've never been asked to leave any place, and there won't be a reason to ask me now."
The contract stated that Kreins has acquired "outstanding and special skills and abilities and an extensive background in and knowledge of (the) employer's business and community."
The city has agreed to keep him on for at least two years, with the option of renewing the agreement at one-year intervals.
Both parties have the option of terminating the agreement with two months' notice. If the city decides to fire Kreins without cause, the agreement calls for him to be paid the salary and other benefits he would have received had he worked through the end of the contract period.
Thus, in the unlikely event that the city would ask Kreins to leave immediately after the contract goes into effect next month, it might be obliged to pay him two years' salary.
If such a decision came at the end of 1986, however, the obligation would be halved, because the council could then merely decide not to take advantage of the option to extend the contract through 1987.
Other city managers on the Westside differed on the need for such contracts, which are the rule in 56% of cities nationwide, according to a survey conducted by the International City Management Assn.
"It's definitely a trend," said Daniel A. Nissenbaum, a staffer at the association's Washington, D.C., headquarters. "We've taken the position that some kind of agreement should be adopted. . . . It's a way for both parties to sit down in the beginning and lay out the expectations of both sides."
Culver City's Dale Jones, who has held his job at the pleasure of elected officials since 1969, said he sees no need for a written agreement.
"With or without a contract, the council can get rid of you anyhow," he said.
Jones, whose annual salary is $81,016, said the trend toward formal agreements stems from the insecurity of newly appointed city managers.
One such newcomer is West Hollywood's Paul Brotzman, who said contracts give city managers some job security and a degree of professional independence they would not have otherwise.
Backed by a contract, he said, a manager "is free to make appropriate recommendations to the City Council and not be worried every time he makes a recommendation that if he displeases the council he loses the job."
Brotzman, the year-old city's first manager, has an indefinite agreement providing for six months' notice or the equivalent in severance pay if he is asked to leave. He receives $64,800 a year.
Santa Monica's John Jalili, who was appointed to his $75,000 job a year ago, said that some City Councils favor contracts because "they give the necessary tools to the manager to perform the task."
In his own case, he said, "I've not asked the council for a contract. That's why there isn't any."
Keith Comrie, chief administrative officer for Los Angeles since 1979, also serves without a contract, like all the city's executives. His salary is $106,696.80, a spokesman said.