, Salem, MA

February 13, 2014

Our view: A better way to look at City Council salaries

The Salem News

---- — Salem’s City Council is once again discussing a raise for the mayor — and by extension, themselves.

It is always an awkward conversation, because the councilors’ salary is linked to the mayor’s. They automatically get 10 percent of what the mayor gets. In this case, new Ward 4 Councilor David Eppley proposed an amendment — accepted by a council subcommittee — that their own raise not take effect until 2016, after the next City Council election.

That was a good first step.

But we hope councilors will take it a step further and end the unnecessary linkage between the mayor’s salary and their own. The two jobs are not related, and there is no reason why a raise for one should prompt a raise for the other, except that it’s politically easier.

The mayor is a full-time public employee who puts her private career aside to run a city of 42,000 people with a $136 million budget. Although it’s an elected office, it is also a professional position, with oversight of hundreds of municipal employees. When it comes to salary, the mayor deserves to be treated as the top manager in a large organization, and that includes regular raises that keep the salary competitive enough to attract top talent.

City councilors are not full-time employees. They keep their day jobs, where they earn their own salaries, and perform a part-time public service as elected officials. They don’t supervise any employees, manage any departments or have responsibility for anything other than their own votes. No one supervises them, and there are no set hours or work rules.

That is not to denigrate the importance — or the work ethic — of city councilors. It’s just a fact of life. It is not the same kind of position as the mayor’s, and there’s no reason for councilors to expect regular raises or automatic increases, or for the public to grant them on a regular basis.

Councilors are paid $10,000 a year, a sum meant to reimburse some of the expenses they incur during their work for the city and to compensate them for some of the time they spend on public business. It seems a reasonable sum, but that’s not all. Current law entitles them to receive benefits like health insurance — worth thousands of dollars a year — at the same level as the city’s full-time employees, even though they don’t work full time.

The point is they’re not badly compensated now. They have every right to evaluate the compensation periodically and adjust it when necessary, but there’s no need — or frankly, justification — to tie it to the mayor’s salary.

We’re hoping Salem’s new City Council will uncouple the salaries for these two vastly different positions and allow themselves the freedom to evaluate each job and its compensation on its own merits.