REPUBLIC, Mo. – KOLR 10 Investigates uncovered dramatic inconsistencies in taxpayer-funded city employee salaries across the area when looking at how much money city administrators and city managers earn.
In Republic, City Administrator David Cameron got a $60,000 raise at the height of the pandemic. KOLR 10 Investigates pressed city officials to justify not only that raise, but multiple five-figure raises for Cameron. He will make $262,571 this year, which is even more than the city manager in Springfield despite Springfield being nearly ten times the size in population.
The big pay increases ramped up in 2020, around the same time Matt Russell became the mayor of Republic and Amazon announced plans to build a major warehouse distribution center within city limits. Mayor Russell and Cameron himself told KOLR 10 Investigates the big salary is justified because of the economic growth Cameron has spurred in Republic.
“I’m not maintaining the current employers,” said Cameron. “What we’re doing is bringing in additional employers and growing the economic base for the community and the region and the state.”
But not all Republic residents who fund Cameron’s salary are sold on the price Cameron’s salary is costing them.
“Even though Republic does have a big boom going on with the addition of Amazon…truly in my opinion it’s kind of extravagant with what he’s making compared to others,” said Erik Kiperts.
KOLR 10 Investigates obtained salary information for the last several years to see how much the equivalent positions in Branson, Nixa, Ozark, and Springfield are making. The population numbers correspond to the most recent U.S. Census data available.
Republic City Administrator David Cameron | Population: 19,136 in 2021
2018 – $128,065
2019 – $154,639
2020 – $170,000
2021 – $228,999
2022 – $250,067
2023 – $262,571
Branson City Administrator Cathy Stepp | Population: 12,833 in 2021
2022 – $154,000
2023 – $164,700.64
Former Branson City Administrator Stanley Dobbins
2018 – $169,728.21
2019 – $178,316.53
2020 – $187,339.36
2021 – $192,022.90
2022 – $199,703.71
Nixa City Administrator Jimmy Liles | Population: 24,137 in 2021
2018 – $125,008
2019 – $130,041
2020 – $135,283
2021 – $141,003
2022 – $147,596
2023 – $160,430
Ozark City Administrator Steve Childers | Population: 21,866 in 2021
2018 – $104,020.80
2019 – $127,732.80
2020 – $129,929.80
2021 – $136,385.60
2022 – $139,505.60
2023 – $147,804.80
Springfield City Manager Jason Gage | Population: 169,724 in 2021
2018 – $220,000.04
2019 – $228,000.24
2020 – $228,000.24
2021 – $236,824.12
2022 – $246,313.60
2023 – Pending
“If we’re the ones technically paying their salaries, we should definitely have a say,” said Kiperts. “It should be voted on.”
According to Republic city charter, the decision is solely up to the mayor and city council, who unanimously approved Cameron’s latest pay bumps.
“That’s very concerning,” said Republic resident Tamara Anderson. “I hate that our downtown looks the way it does and he’s making that much.”
Others didn’t take issue with Cameron’s pay grade. Curtis White owns Country Sunshine, a used furniture and décor store in downtown Republic, with his wife. It’s just a stone’s throw away from Cameron’s office at city hall.
“I understand that if you want good service and you want to create growth, you can’t get by with going to the bottom of the barrel,” said White. “Sometimes you’ve got to go to the top.”
Mayor Russell echoed that sentiment, telling KOLR 10 Investigates it’s important to compare results, not just population numbers.
“What you’re doing is comparing Republic to Nixa and Ozark based on population size,” said Russell. “And that’s not a fair comparison based on how we look at things. We’re looking at the $1.2 billion David Cameron has brought into the city since 2016.”
HOW PUBLIC SAFETY COMES INTO PLAY
But in an interview with KOLR 10 back in 2019, Cameron had no problem using population to compare salaries when it came to law enforcement.
“Our police officers are the lowest paid in southwest Missouri for similar size cities,” said Cameron while campaigning for a public safety sales tax.
And Cameron’s salary was never mentioned in that interview as he discussed the city’s inability to pay police officers a competitive wage.
“We began to put together ideas for how we would first cut costs in the city before we ever asked taxpayers to do anything with additional funding,” said Cameron.
At that time, he was already making more than $150,000, which was also considerably higher than the city administrator salaries in Nixa and Ozark in 2019.
When voters eventually passed a public safety sales tax in August of 2021, Cameron’s $60,000 raise took effect the same month.
“We never considered cutting his salary,” said the mayor. “You don’t base an administrator’s salary based on what police and firefighters are making, you base it on the value he brings to the city. That value is $1.2 billion in investment. No single firefighter or law enforcement officer is able to bring that kind of value in.”
The mayor’s logic didn’t sit well with residents we interviewed.
“Our emergency personnel who are putting their lives in danger and they’re making significantly less than he is,” said Megan Defreece.
With Amazon already reeled in and the city rumored to be pursuing other big companies, Russell would not rule out a future raise for his city manager.
“There is no maximum [salary] in place. He could make whatever it is the council determined he deserves to make,” said Russell.
The mayor adds that city council would only consider decreasing Cameron’s salary if the general fund decreases. Cameron stepped into the role in 2016. Records obtained by KOLR 10 Investigates indicate the general fund balance fell in 2016 and the year after, but has increased every year since 2018.
THE AMAZON EFFECT
Mayor Russell said Cameron got that $60,000 raise largely for his role in handling a deal between the City of Republic and Amazon.
“He got a very significant raise and that was directly after Amazon came into our town,” said Russell. “There were a lot of people involved in that. Developers, Amazon itself was the one that decided it wanted to come in. But David played the point person for the city of Republic.”
KOLR 10 Investigates will look at Amazon’s economic impact on Republic and the region through job creation and taxes generation. Return on Investment Part 2 airs Thursday, May 4 at 6 p.m. on KOLR 10 and 9 p.m. on FOX 49.
If you need help solving a problem, or have a tip for our investigative team, email Investigative Reporter Lauren Barnas at LBarnas@KOLR10.com.