Spokane Mayor David Condon is an innocent law-breaker, and it’s about time voters eliminate that contradiction.
For starters, by pushing the City Council to put to voters Condon’s proposal that his salary and that of future mayors be set by the Salary Review Commission. And, secondarily, by approving the change when – not if – it’s on the ballot in a subsequent election.
Of course, it was voters who put Condon in the awkward position last fall of having to decline a pay raise to which he was entitled under Proposition 2. A bare majority of voters – less than 2 percent – approved the measure in August 2011.
The proposition made his accepting the increase mandatory, but the result for 2015 would have been a paycheck of $179,484, a $7,000 increase.
In turning the raise down, Condon said he would ask that his compensation be set by the Salary Review Commission, which sets City Council pay. In an April 2 letter to City Council President Ben Stuckart, Condon followed through on that commitment by asking the council to put the measure on the August primary ballot. The council must act by May 8 to make that possible.
The mayor correctly identified the dilemma created by Proposition 2, which says his salary must equal that of the best-paid city employee. That would be police Chief Frank Straub, whom Condon hired.
But the chief’s pay is determined by those of the department’s captains and lieutenants. Their contract – the most recent was negotiated by prior mayor Mary Verner’s team – is approved by the council.
Though attention-grabbing, the mayor’s salary is merely indicative of the generosity of compensation for the 160-odd city employees with six-figure paychecks. Increases cascade up to the mayor, not down from the mayor.
By putting the mayor’s compensation in the hands of the Salary Review Commission, the link between his or her pay and that of the other city employees would be broken.
The downside to what Condon is proposing is the timing. It would have been better if voting on the city charter amendment not coincide with the first round of voting for mayor. Condon did the right thing rejecting the salary bump, and any claim to a city pension, but opponents may nonetheless try to spin the pay flap against him in the primary.
Despite knowing the mayor was legally obligated to take a pay increase to match Straub’s, Stuckart and Councilman Jon Snyder attacked Condon last year.
The council and mayor might also reconstitute the salary commission to split appointees two each, with a fifth member the four designate. A review of all city compensation could follow – a process sure to excite employee bargaining units.
The city is working much more efficiently than in the past, which is a credit to all employees, but recalibrating city compensation against private-sector pay would be an overdue exercise.
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