Apparently, the phones started ringing at City Hall, because Council President Ben Stuckart called a news conference this afternoon to defend the pay increases as a function of the independent salary commission.
"This is not an action of council. This is the action of an independent commission," Stuckart said. "This was not a decision of council."
He noted that the sizable pay raise was shocking, but appropriate for the work council members do.
"A 44 percent raise sounds outrageous and it doesn’t pass the smell test with citizens. But if we think about the council members up until now making $31,200, we’re the lowest paid public servants in City Hall, do we really want that?" Stuckart said. "I’m a member of 14 different boards and commissions. .. That’s what we chose to do and it takes some time to do that."
Stuckart, confirming what other council members told me, said that "some weeks that takes 40 hours. Some weeks that takes 70 hours. ... I’m happy working 70 hours for the citizens, and notice I got a one percent raise."
Unlike council members, Stuckart's pay bumped up about $1,400, to $58,630.
Attempting to put the raises in context, or perhaps shift the focus of the gathered reporters, Stuckart pointed out repeatedly that 34 "managers" at City Hall make more than $100,000 a year. Beginning in 2017, council members will be paid about $45,000 a year.
"If you think that your City Council, that’s representing you, the people of our Spokane, are less important than the mid-level managers at our city, then I just don’t think we have our priorities straight," Stuckart said. "It makes me angry that we have to deal with this every two years. And it makes me angry that we have 34 people in this building making over six figures a year, yet we have people that are getting complained about for making $45,000 that are working for the citizens a lot harder than most of those people making six figures. That’s crazy to me."
Stuckart took aim at some former council members. First, he noted that former Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin, who is now a county commissioner, sponsored a 2007 ordinance putting the council pay in the hands of the Salary Review Commission.
Then, without mentioning his name, Stuckart slighted former Councilman Mike Allen, who has argued that council members should not work full-time.
"The work that they did not do fell to other council members," Stuckart said, confirming that Allen likely kept to his word to not work full-time. (At the time he was on council, Allen also taught at North Idaho College and helped launch the Cork District, a marketing group promoting wine tourism.)
Finally, Stuckart said he would prefer to avoid getting "raked over the coals" every two years by linking council member pay to inflation, or a similar economic index.
"In my opinion, the easiest fix for this would be to set the appropriate salary now … and then just appropriately index upwards or downwards depending on what the economy is doing at the time," he said.
When pressed, he said he would not sponsor such legislation.