Press Talk: How does a $30,000 raise sound?

By Lou Brancaccio, Columbian Editor



Baby, it’s tough out there. Very tough.

Even though we hear about an improving economy, there are still about three job seekers for every available job.

Not only that, seven out of the 10 most common jobs pay less than $30,000 a year in most cases.

Still, when I heard that Vancouver City Manager Eric Holmes was making only $30,000 a year, I honestly felt that was way too low. Frankly, it made me angry. So angry that I started writing this open letter to Mayor Tim Leavitt:

“Dear Mr. Mayor, there is no way our city manager only should be making …” Oh, hold on a second. I’m getting some corrected info. The city manager is not making $30,000 a year? That $30,000 figure was actually his raise? Really?

What the …

More math to understand

If you’d like to look at it another way, that’s a 17 percent kick. Let that sink in. A 17 percent raise!

Give the councilors some credit. They could have given Holmes a $31,000 raise, bringing him to $200,000 a year. But I suspect even they understood the $199,000 figure was not going to play well amongst us serfs, so there was no need to breach that 200 number.

Maybe next year, right?

Don’t get me wrong, I know Holmes. He’s not only a very good guy, but he’s very, very good at what he does. And I’d argue the city is lucky to have him around.

But that’s not the question. The question is does that translate to $199,000 a year?

Well, everyone on the council thinks so. Me, not so much.

Listen to what Councilor Alishia Topper said when she agreed to the $30,000 raise:

“$199,000 is not even close to what you’re actually worth.”

If I were Topper, here’s what I would have said:

“If I were looking at your performance and your salary in a bubble, not paying any attention to what’s going on out there, I’d give ya a million bucks.

“Unfortunately we’re not living in a bubble. We’re terrible at maintaining parks. We’re terrible at fixing roads.

“What are we very good at? Well, we’re very good at raising taxes and raising salaries.

“There’s something wrong with this picture.

“It would be very difficult for me to look a resident in the eye and tell her we can’t mow the city park in her neighborhood but we can give our city manager a $30,000 raise.”

Well, maybe things look brighter down the road. Maybe the councilors see that pot of gold in the future?

Not so much.

The councilors shelled out this huge raise at the exact same time Holmes was telling our generous councilors the city is likely to be in a world of hurt soon because revenues are not keeping up with expenses.

Is it defensible?

Of course the councilors believe this boisterous bump is perfectly OK. They brought out a whole bunch of paperwork to support their action. They compared Holmes’ salary to a bunch of other salaries and essentially said, “See, we be gettin’ a bargain here!”

The flaw, unfortunately, is not appreciating how the governmental raise game is played. Here’s the secret formula:

Spokane’s city manager is given a huge salary. Residents go nuts over there. But only for a little while. We all have short memories.

That Spokane salary opens the door for Vancouver by pointing to it and giving our guy a raise.

And the next time the city manager in Spokane is up for a bump? He’ll point back to Vancouver.

Delicious irony

As noted, the councilors are hanging their hats on this salary comparison for Holmes’ raise. And the comparison showed Holmes wasn’t making as much money as some of these other guys.

But it was just a couple of months ago when a salary comparison was done on councilor salaries. And that comparison showed our councilors were making more money than their counterparts. So what did the city commission — charged with looking at councilor salaries — do?

Well, the commission essentially said, “Screw it, let’s give them more money anyway.” So they ended up with raises.

In other words, when a comparison helps your case, use it. When a comparison doesn’t help your case, dismiss it.

I asked Leavitt about all this $30,000 raise stuff, and of course he disagrees with me. He felt it was the right thing to do and the right time to do it.

“We (council) get paid … to make tough and sometimes unpopular — but the right– decisions.”

If you say so. My conclusion? Oh my!

Don't Do Stupid Stuff Mugs