June 3, 2011 in City

Condon’s criticism of public salaries could backfire

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Jonathan Brunt photo

David Condon waves to cars headed into the downtown Doubletree Hotel, where he later addressed attendees at his kick-off breakfast May 24 for his campaign for Spokane mayor.
(Full-size photo)

Spokane mayoral hopeful David Condon has made government salaries an early issue of his campaign, targeting specifically city employees earning more than $100,000 a year.

But until taking a leave of absence to run for mayor, Condon himself earned nearly $127,000 annually as a Spokane-based federal employee serving as district director for Republican U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers. Additionally, he has yet to decide whether he would follow incumbent Mary Verner’s lead in capping the mayor’s annual salary to about $100,000 or take the more than $170,000 a year allocated for the job.

“The employees and the cost of staff is spiraling out of control,” Condon told supporters last week at a campaign kickoff breakfast. “Literally, last week I got an email confirming that they’re expecting somewhere between $5 million and $8 million in pay increases next year. I don’t know about you, but it’s time that – many of you probably aren’t planning on a raise next year – that we look at this and make sure that we’re getting our money’s worth.”

Condon’s decision to point out city workers who earn $100,000 carries a potential political risk because it could remind voters of Verner’s pay cut, which she’s taken ever since winning the office in 2007. He has said he won’t decide until after the election whether he’d do the same if he wins.

“It’s something that I’ll discuss with my family and decide at that time when I get there,” said Condon, who announced his candidacy early last month. “The budget will be agreed upon for that first year by the time I take office, so you have to work within the parameters that you’re given.”

The City Charter entitles the mayor to a salary equal to the highest-paid employee other than the city administrator. By the end of her term, Verner will have turned down nearly $250,000.

“I have to set an example from the top to cut back so that other people can keep their jobs and deliver services,” Verner said.

Condon’s criticism of six-figure City Hall salaries came during a pitch to potential campaign donors, including many Spokane-area business owners.

“Do you know we have over a hundred positions that make over $100,000,” Condon told the crowd. “Could you imagine what we could do with that money to put us back onto the national stage again?”

Condon actually low-balled the number of workers earning that figure. City Budget Director Tim Dunivant said that this year 190 city employees will earn more than $100,000. That’s about 10 percent of the municipal work force.

Verner argues that the number of city workers earning over $100,000 is comparable to similar organizations with nearly 2,000 workers. She also points to concessions made by unions during her term and a salary freeze she ordered for unrepresented workers.

“The salary schedules were already set when I took office,” she said. “I have worked to change the trend.”

In an interview this week, Condon clarified his stance. He said he isn’t necessarily saying he would cut back on the number of people who earn $100,000, nor lower their pay.

“With good leadership, there’s a lot of smart people that are well compensated that, put in the right direction, could do some pretty amazing things for the city,” Condon said. “I have been a government employee. You need to pay for talent.”

Verner said employees already are producing results with a smaller staff and many are working longer hours.

“These are the very jobs that are bringing every efficiency possible out of our budget so we can continue to deliver services,” Verner said.

During his speech last week, Condon also questioned potential raises for city workers next year.

City administrators have estimated the increase in next year’s budget from pay raises at slightly more than $5 million out of a total budget of around $625 million, but they caution that further concessions are possible and that some contracts are not settled yet for 2012.

As a congressional staff member, Condon saw his pay rise more than 30 percent since 2007, when Verner took office and when the national economy began to fall. Last year, Condon earned nearly $127,000, according to legistorm.com, which tracks the pay of congressional staffs.

Condon said most of that raise results from him agreeing to take on extra duties in McMorris Rodgers’ office, including payroll, while adding the title deputy chief of staff to his existing job of district director.

In his speech, Condon also pointed to the mayor’s budget, which has increased nearly 30 percent since 2007.

“We’re not managing our budget very well,” he said.

Much of that increase can be attributed to Verner’s “employee-led innovation” program, which is designed to find ways to cut costs and increase efficiency at City Hall and will cost about $250,000 this year.

She says the program “is producing far more in cost savings” than it costs and noted that the portion of her budget isolated to her and her personal staff has fallen about 10 percent since she took office.


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