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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane City Council sets employee salary cap, but it’s so high no one is affected

The Spokane City Council unanimously passed an ordinance that increases council oversight of city hiring and caps city employee pay at four times Spokane’s median household income.

When an earlier version of the ordinance was introduced this summer, Brian Coddington, then-spokesman for Mayor David Condon, said the mayor was considering a veto and Chris Cavanaugh, city human resources director, spoke out against it.

The ordinance, which was updated minutes before it was approved Monday, requires all vacant positions to be budgeted at the lowest pay grade in the job description. If the human resources department were to fill a vacant position with a higher salary, it would need to provide a memorandum to the City Council explaining its decision. City employee pay would be capped at four times the Washington state Office of Financial Management’s calculated median household income for Spokane of $53,000, putting the maximum amount the city could pay an employee at $212,000.

In a statement, Mayor David Condon said employment decisions fall under the mayor’s office, not the City Council. He criticized the council for going against the human resources’ recommendations and passing a version of an ordinance with final updates that hadn’t been reviewed by the public before passage.

Councilwoman Karen Stratton, who sponsored the ordinance, contended the mayor’s preliminary proposal was $3 million over budget, highlighting the need to save money and for City Council oversight. She said the council has seen several examples of employees who were hired at a higher pay grade than is budgeted for their position when they lacked the experience or education to justify that pay level. Stratton said the ordinance was designed to ensure employees are hired at Level One pay and have their compensation increased through traditional methods such as performance evaluations.

In a memo sent Friday to Stratton, human resources requested the ordinance be pulled from the docket because of concerns over collective bargaining; attracting qualified, diverse candidates; and retaining existing employees. Stratton said she attempted to address the issues by allowing exceptions if the individual circumstances were reviewed by the City Council.

“If you have somebody that you absolutely cannot get and you think they’re the best-qualified candidate, we want to leave room for that negotiation, as long as we know about it,” she said.

All Spokane city employees fall underneath the compensation cap. The five highest-earning employees in 2017 were police Chief Craig Meidl, who earned $176,000; Condon, who earned $167,000; Assistant Police Chief Justin Lundgren, who earned $164,000; Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer, who earned $160,000; and Spokane police Maj. Kevin King, who earned $158,000.

Stratton said she, the council and the mayor have clashed frequently in the past over personnel legislation and she doubts the mayor will sign the bill. She said he may criticize them for overstepping their bounds and eventually veto the ordinance.

“I don’t expect he will jump for joy and sign this,” she said.