Do Vancouver’s mayor and city council deserve a hefty pay raise?
Mayor Tim Leavitt thinks so, along with at least one member of the city Salary Review Commission, which must set the mayor and council’s 2017-2018 salaries by May 1.
In early 2014, the five-member salary review commission hiked Leavitt’s monthly pay for 2015-2016 from $2,200 to $2,300, which amounts to $27,600 a year. The other councilors were given a bump from $1,781 a month to $1,800, which is $21,600 a year. The mayor pro tem earns $2,000 a month.
Leavitt says being mayor of the fourth-largest city in Washington and the second-largest city in the Portland metro area has been a seven-day-a-week gig that warrants a $100,000 annual salary.
“The demands and obligations as mayor are full time and beyond,” said Leavitt, who has served on the city council since 2003 and has been mayor since 2009.
A civil engineer, Leavitt’s salary at PBS Engineering and Environmental was cut by 50 percent, or $60,000, because his mayoral duties took him away from the office so much, he said Wednesday. His mayoral workload varies from 15 to 50 hours per week, he said, adding that everyone he’s talked to is “astonished and disappointed” to hear how poorly he is paid.
• What: Public hearing before the Salary Review Commission, which will consider increasing Vancouver’s mayor and council salaries.
• When: 3:30 p.m. March 30.
• Where: Vancouver City Hall, 415 W. Sixth St., Vancouver.
When people considering running for city council ask about time commitment, responsibility and pay, “by the time you get to the compensation, nine-and-a-half times out of 10 they’re turned off,” Leavitt said.
Leavitt said he’s “99 percent sure” he won’t run for re-election when his four-year term expires at the end of 2017, even if his pay were drastically boosted.
“There’s a point where it’s time to turn the reins over in leadership,” he said. “At a local government level, that time has come for me.”
Pay is lower elsewhere
While cities including Tacoma and Spokane are run by full-time mayors, under Vancouver’s city manager form of government, City Manager Eric Holmes oversees the administrative duties. Holmes’ 2016 salary is $210,000. The mayor and city council set policy and represent the city on various boards. The mayor presides over the council meetings and serves as the city’s figurehead at public events and ceremonies. In his absence, the mayor pro tem fills in.
In other comparable Washington cities with a city manager form of government that the salary commission reviewed this year — Bellevue, Yakima, Spokane Valley, Kirkland, Kennewick, Lakewood, Olympia, Pasco, Richland and Shoreline — the average monthly salary is $1,413 for mayors and $1,467 for councilors. Vancouver’s pay is 163 percent above average for mayors and 123 percent above average for councilors, the salary commission learned.
Two residents have lobbied the commission this year for significantly raising the Vancouver mayor’s salary. George Francisco, who made an unsuccessful bid for Councilor Bill Turlay’s seat in November, made a pitch for paying the mayor $103,500 per year on the grounds that higher pay was necessary to attract quality leaders to run for office, given its extensive time demands.
Craig Angelo of the Vancouver-based Al Angelo Company commercial and residential leasing services sent a letter to the salary commission citing Vancouver’s growth to the fourth-largest city in Washington with a population of 170,000. He noted that the mayor makes myriad public appearances in addition to traveling and meeting with constituents, organizations and leaders.
The mayor’s duties far exceed part-time job status, argued Angelo, whose father, Albert C. Angelo Sr., was a councilor and mayor from 1962 to 1969, when the city had about 42,000 residents.
“Compensating a competent, professional and engaged individual $28,000 a year for the mayor position is a travesty and really …embarrassing for our city. There’s an old saying, ‘You get what you pay for,’ ” Angelo wrote in his Jan. 28 letter.
Under the city charter, the salary commission meets every two years, coinciding with the city’s biennial budget cycle.
The five salary commissioners, who held their fourth meeting this year on Wednesday, are divided on what they consider appropriate compensation for the Vancouver mayor and council.
Commissioner Thomas Hackett advocates for paying the mayor a full-time salary, saying that’s what is needed for someone to provide for his or her family and devote the appropriate time to the job. He’s proposed paying the mayor $75,000 to $80,000 per year, $40,000 for the mayor pro tem and $30,000 for councilors.
Wednesday, the commissioners wondered what city jobs or services would need to be cut to offset such a large pay increase. A police officer or firefighter? Parks and recreation programs? No one had answers.
Chairman Barry Hemphill and Commissioner Stan Girt feel that people know what the city council job pays, and they can decide if they want it and how much time they want to invest into it.
“Compensation is not a recruiting tool,” Hemphill said.
Girt said he would support a 5 percent increase across the board, which would amount to an extra $115 per month for the mayor, $100 for the mayor pro tem and $90 for councilors. Hemphill said he would be agreeable to a 4.5 percent increase to represent the 2 percent to 2.5 percent increase city staff have received the previous two years.
Commissioner Magan Reed said council salaries should be increased because eliminating financial barriers to public service would create more socio-economic, racial and age diversity on the council. Reed advocated for raising the pay by a few hundred dollars a month rather than thousands but did not give a specific number.
“Vancouver is so incredibly diverse and I would love to see that reflected on the board,” Reed said.
Hemphill agreed pay can be a barrier to serving as an elected official. However, he said, “That’s the way the world is. There are all kinds of things we can’t do because we can’t afford it.”
The fifth commissioner, MarCine Miles, was absent Wednesday. According to minutes of previous meetings, she has indicated she supports a pay increase, but there should be a balance.
Councilors weigh in
In 2014, the city council, which hadn’t had a raise since 2009, tried to reject its 2015 pay increase because city employees’ salaries hadn’t risen much in the last few years. However, the salary commission, which has the final say in the matter, hiked their pay anyway.
Wednesday, Councilor Bart Hansen said no raises were needed at this time.
“I knew what I was signing up for, and I didn’t sign up for the money,” he said.
The commission surveyed the councilors about how much time they spent on council business and whether they felt the pay was adequate. None of the four councilors who responded — Hansen, Alishia Topper, Jack Burkman and Mayor Pro Tem Anne McEnerny-Ogle — said the pay was a significant consideration when deciding to run for office.
Asked whether they thought the pay for council and mayor was appropriate to attract a pool of qualified candidates, Hansen simply wrote “no.” McEnerny-Ogle wrote “yes.”
Topper said it depended on whether the council wanted a diverse selection of candidates, such as young professionals with families rather than retirees.
“I believe our system is set up to attract candidates that are retired or independently wealthy,” she wrote on her survey.
Burkman questioned whether residents wanted the mayor and council’s pay raised to full-time job levels, which would result in them leaving their careers to serve in elected office.
Raising the pay might make the mayoral position turn over less frequently, said Burkman, noting that it’s “extremely hard” to unseat an incumbent mayor.
Of the seven city council members (including the mayor), McEnerny-Ogle and Bill Turlay are retired, and Burkman is semi-retired. The other four are professionals under age 50.