Facing public pressure and criticism from the City Council, Spokane Mayor David Condon said Wednesday he will not take a $7,000 pay increase as planned in his 2015 budget proposal.
Condon’s salary was set to climb to nearly $180,000, which would almost match that of Seattle’s mayor. The increase in pay sparked an uproar, and the City Council said the budget didn’t reflect the “community’s values.”
“We strive every day to keep city government affordable,” Condon said in a statement. “A community conversation about the cost of government is a very timely and appropriate way to be accountable.”
After vigorously defending the pay increase last week as a function of city law and voter will, the mayor said he’d forgo the $7,000 because it was becoming a distraction to the “work that’s been done in the last three years,” said his spokesman, Brian Coddington.
Pay increases for other members of Condon’s Cabinet, including the police and fire chiefs, remain in the mayor’s budget proposal. Coddington said the mayor will honor an earlier pledge to donate $7,000 to the city’s multicultural heritage months and an unnamed youth organization.
“He’s open and really excited about having a conversation about the cost of government. And if this is the way to do that, then we’ll do it,” Coddington said, noting that the mayor will be violating the law by declining the raise. “He’s decided to take that risk.”
Coddington said the mayor wanted to discuss “government affordability in general,” but that discussion would include the $1.7 million in contractual wage increases in the budget proposal. According to the city, cost-of-living increases resulting from labor agreements account for approximately $1 million of that total. Contractual step and longevity increases make up the balance.
“I am glad the mayor listened to the people and followed the example set by his predecessor,” council President Ben Stuckart said in a statement.
Under the city charter, only the city administrator is allowed to earn more than the mayor. As a result, under the mayor’s 2015 budget proposal, Condon’s pay was supposed to match Police Chief Frank Straub, who will get an $8,500 raise to $179,484 under the mayor’s proposal.
Voters agreed to make the mayor the highest-paid employee other than the city administrator when they adopted the strong mayor form of government in 1999. They approved the stipulation again when the City Council asked voters to clarify portions of the city charter in August 2011.
Spokane Mayors Jim West, Dennis Hession and Mary Verner declined portions of the pay they were entitled to during at least a portion of their terms. Condon also held his pay to $100,000 his first year as mayor because, he said at the time, the budget had been approved before he took office and the mayor’s salary was set at $100,000, the amount Verner earned.
After losing her 2011 re-election bid, Verner made a request for the money she had turned down. After the city denied her request, she did not pursue the issue.
Councilman Mike Fagan, the sole council member to defend the mayor’s raise, said he would convene a public forum on Nov. 14 to address city wages. Changes to the city charter and having the Salary Review Commission assess administrative wages are options, Fagan said.
Coddington said Condon was open to change in the city law deciding his pay, and “possibly even championing that charter change.”
“It needs to be a holistic conversation,” Coddington said. “It’s time to revisit the conversation and make sure this is what people intended when they voted.”
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