MONDAY, March 11 — Bigger paychecks could soon be on the way for elected leaders in the city of Lansing.
Tonight, the city’s Elected Officers Compensation Committee will recommend to the City Council a series of pay raises, including 8 percent bumps this year for the mayor, the city clerk and all eight Council members.
The Council, which has the power to reject the committee’s recommendations, allowed 20 percent increases for all elected officials to take effect in 2015 when only four members voted against it. In 2017, the Council garnered enough votes to reject 1 percent annual increases for two years.
This year’s proposal calls for a $10,000 mayoral raise in 2019 and smaller increases in the next two years that would raise the mayor’s salary to $144,500 by 2021.
Schor is currently paid $128,400 annually.
Over the same period, salaries for Council members would jump from from $26,640 to $30,004 for the president; $25,140 to $28,297 for vice president; and from $24,240 to $27,284 for the other six members.
The city clerk’s salary would go up from $87,066 to $98,000 by 2021, including a $7,000 raise in 2019.
Councilman Adam Hussain expressed misgivings about the new increases, while Councilwoman Jody Washington said she opposes it. Washington and Carol Wood, the Council president, voted against the 20 percent increase in 2015.
Schor said he is “conflicted” about the concept as well. Elected officials shouldn’t come to Lansing for the money, he contended.
“I do this job because I’m interested in benefiting my community,” Schor added. “I’ll have to see the research.”
How does the process work?
The City Council’s Committee of the Whole will meet at 5:30 tonight to review the raise recommendations.
Tonight’s presentation isn’t a formal proposal, according to City Clerk Chris Swope. It’s only a preliminary discussion amid the standard, two-year cycle of reconsidering salaries for citywide elected leadership positions.
The Council will only be given the ability to reject the changes with a two-thirds majority — or five of its eight members. Their approval isn’t necessary. It would also require a formal resolution to effectively toss out their own salary increases.
No formal action is expected tonight, but it’s the City Council ’s first glimpse into the latest recommendations.
City Council, under the City Charter, will have 30 days to reject the suggestions before they take effect by default. Swope said a formal recommendation hasn’t yet been filed with his office, but he expects one to arrive soon.
Do Lansing’s elected leaders need more money?
According to tonight’s presentation, salaries for Lansing’s elected officials have fallen behind the rate of inflation. The proposed raises — recommended to total about $48,000 by 2021 — are necessary to catch up on years of stagnant salaries and to compensate for the lack of inflationary adjustments, according to the presentation.
Washington said that it is “not right for elected officials to take these enormous pay raises” while residents are “struggling.”
Councilman Adam Hussain said he plans to tread cautiously after 20-percent raises were doled out in 2015. Pay raises can send the wrong message, he said, especially while residents are unemployed, underemployed and underpaid.
“I understand there is a conversation to be had about fair compensation and the attraction of quality candidates for these positions,” Hussain said. “However, we need to be very careful moving forward about the type of message we send to those we represent and work for in the city of Lansing.”
Hussain said his “discomfort” about those increases pushed him — and at least four of his colleagues — to reject subsequent recommendations in 2017. The commission still felt it “important to act” again this year to play catch-up. The idea: Years of rising inflation rates paired with flat salaries have effectively devalued those paychecks for years.
Councilman Peter Spadafore, this year’s vice president, sounded more open-minded toward the increases.
“I tend to believe this process is in place for a reason,” Spadafore added. “We should take seriously their recommendations. That doesn’t mean we can rubber stamp them every year, but this process is in place for a reason and we need to seriously consider what this commission has to say. It’ll take some more discussion.”
How does Lansing stack up with other places?
The salary-setting commission noted that Lansing operates as a “strong mayor” city — making it better to compare Schor’s pay rate to city managers and executive directors of nonprofit organizations rather than other, perhaps more ceremonial, mayoral offices. In Lansing, Schor is a key player in the city decision-making process.
East Lansing City Manager George Lahanas, for example, is salaried at $167,000 annually. Dearborn Mayor John B. O’Reilly Jr. rakes in about $147,000 annually. Ann Arbor City Manager Howard Lazarus makes $223,600 annually. Schor’s recommended rate would still put him behind those “comparable” roles by 2021, records show.
Council members in Grand Rapids and Dearborn are paid $24,410 and $16,649, respectively. The commission also considered the annual $13,271 rate for the City Council in Madison, Wisconsin. No specific explanation was provided to help justify the proposed increases for both the City Council and Swope’s position as the clerk.
Calls to multiple members of that commission for added clarification were not immediately returned. More details are expected to surface at tonight’s meeting.
Visit lansingcitypulse.com for updates as they’re available.