Spokane’s mayor would no longer have to be the highest-paid city worker under a proposal voters may decide next year.
Councilman Mike Fagan is proposing to give the city’s Salary Review Commission the power to set the mayor’s wage, a change that would require approval from city voters. The idea was first proposed by Mayor David Condon after the blowback he received when he proposed giving himself a raise based on the city charter, which currently requires him to be the top-paid city worker.
The goal is to depoliticize the mayor’s pay, but the timing of when voters consider the issue could have political implications for Condon as he runs for re-election.
Fagan said he wants the issue to appear on February’s ballot. But some council members say the timing could hurt the prospects of other potential ballot measures seeking money for schools and an expanded regional transit system.
Fagan dismissed their concerns and suggested that previous statements by council members critical of mayor’s proposed pay increase were insincere.
“If you guys were the one that highlighted this as an issue that was detrimental to the taxpayers, why are we pushing this off?” Fagan said. “I guess it isn’t as hot, I guess it isn’t as detrimental, as we were made to think.”
Council President Ben Stuckart said he supports Fagan’s idea, just not its placement on February’s ballot, which will have a $145 million bond measure by Spokane Public Schools. February ballots also will have measures from Cheney and Mead school districts, which overlap with Spokane’s municipal borders. Cheney is asking for a $44.8 million bond and Mead is seeking a $69.5 million bond.
“I’m not in favor of the timing of it. I’ll be lobbying my fellow council members to delay it till next fall,” Stuckart said, adding that the charter change would create “a dynamic that might confuse the school issue.”
The following ballot, in April, could have a ballot measure from the Spokane Transit Authority, which would ask voters to help fund its Moving Forward campaign. The ambitious 10-year, $72 million proposal mostly will be covered by federal funds, but about $12 million would need to be generated locally.
The STA board will decide Dec. 18 whether to put the issue on the ballot.
Councilman Mike Allen, a liaison for the council on the STA board, said putting Fagan’s proposal on the April ballot might get in the way of STA’s potential proposal. Regardless, it had his backing.
“I support what Mike’s trying to do because it depoliticizes the mayor’s salary, which is exactly what (the Salary Review Commission) does with the council’s salary,” he said.
Allen said he didn’t worry about the charter change influencing the mayor’s race.
“The only way it could become an issue is if the people running make it an issue,” he said.
So far, Condon has no challengers. When he does, and if voters have to consider how the mayor’s pay is determined, it may well become an issue considering the response his proposed pay raise received last month.
When Condon released his detailed 2015 budget proposal, it included a raise for the mayor, which would have brought his pay to nearly $180,000. Within days, a majority of the City Council stood before reporters condemning the budget. At the time, Stuckart framed the pay raises for the mayor and a majority of his cabinet as part of a pattern in Condon’s administration of dismantling union protections, increasing the number of “middle management” positions at City Hall and giving “upper administration” pay increases.
“This isn’t some isolated incident,” Stuckart said.
Condon backed away from his raise, though he continues to argue that it is determined by city law and driven by ballooning union contracts.
The city charter currently requires that the mayor be the highest-paid employee with the only allowed exception being the city administrator.
After public outrage, the mayor rejected the raise and waived “any legal or equitable right now or in the future” to the pay raise, according to a document he signed early this month.
On Monday, the City Council approved the 2015 budget, stripping pay raises for nonunion employees at City Hall, including those for the mayor’s cabinet.
The mayor said Wednesday that he would leave discussion of the ballot’s timing to the council.
Fagan, who was the sole council member to defend the mayor’s pay increase, led a series of town hall meetings on the topic. The first meeting, at the Northeast Community Center, was attended by just one person, and Fagan discussed the issue thoroughly with her for close to an hour.
In total, 10 people showed up for the discussions, Fagan said.
“Considering the initial response, yes, I expected more people to come out,” Fagan said. “It was definitely a talked-about issue. It was very surprising and I’ll tell you straight up it was rather disappointing to see how many people showed up.”
Fagan said most people he spoke to wanted the mayor’s pay reduced and more reflective of the median household income in Spokane, which is below $50,000. Fagan said he believed the pay should be around $100,000 and capped at $150,000.
Above all, he said, people told him at the town halls to keep the process uncomplicated.
“People are very interested in keeping this simple,” he said. “They don’t want to use some complicated mathematical formulas. They don’t want to use trigonometry.”
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