This Tuesday, the Common Council will vote on whether to change the city’s charter to allow mid-term pay increases for the mayor, controller, and aldermen. A raise to the mayor’s or aldermen’s compensation has not yet been proposed by anyone, however Mayor Michael Villa put in a $10,000 (18%) increase to the controller’s salary in his budget, and currently three out of five aldermen have agreed unofficially to the increase as well.
Now let me be clear, I think the current controller, Matt Agresta, is doing a fine job and is certainly deserving of a raise. However, removing the restriction on mid-term raises is a bad idea. There’s a reason that mid-term raises for elected officials are currently restricted by both City of Amsterdam and Montgomery County. And there’s a reason that under New York State law, any mid-term raise for an elected official is subject to a permissive referendum. I believe the reason is simple: so elected officials don’t vote for their own salary increases or make political deals to give each other more money. I’m not accusing anyone of doing this in the current situation, but the city, county, and state laws are important to help provide the accountability that is needed for our government to maintain trust with the people they serve.
I certainly agree with the idea that city salaries, especially for a position as critical as the controller’s, need to stay competitive with other municipalities and the private sector in order to attract the best talent. But the way that salary increases have been awarded over the years to non-union officials, elected or otherwise, seems inconsistent to me.
The situation reminds me a little bit of when back in 2012, Mayor Ann Thane proposed a $15,000 (25%) raise for part-time Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis. At the time, DeCusatis was generally considered to be a close friend and advisor to Thane. The internet and the newspaper editors were in an uproar over it.
This year, the controller’s salary isn’t the only large increase. Villa has also proposed a $7,000 (29%) raise for part-time Personnel Director Pat Beck. At the last State of the City address, I perceived a statement being made as Beck was the only department head seated with Villa, and seated to his immediate right at that. Beck was also active in Villa’s campaign. So where’s the uproar over this?
And on the other side of the coin, a $2,000 (1.7%) raise proposed by Villa for long-time City Clerk Susan Alibozek was rolled back by the council. She also received a slightly smaller increase last year.
Aldermen Chad Majewski and Ed Russo gave unofficial no votes on the controller’s raise, while only Majewski said no on Beck’s raise, and yes to Alibozek’s raise.
You know what would cut the drama and clear the murkiness on the issue of raises? A clearly written personnel policy for non-union officials and elected officials similar to what Montgomery County adopted in 2015 and 2016. While the county’s charter explicitly prohibits a mid-term salary increase for the county executive, the elected official’s policy also limits mid-term increases. Small incremental increases in salary and benefits for other non-union employees are spelled in the other policy.
Every year, over the past four years, I’ve watched common council members hem and haw over raises at budget time, struggling with the idea of whether it’s fair to give one employee a raise and not another. A well-written, consistent policy that applies to all non-union employees, that provides for small, predictable, incremental raises would take the politics and guesswork out of the process. Removing the restriction on mid-term raises entirely and pushing through such a large one-time raise for the controller sets a precedent that could mean more increases next time around. Given the proposed raise to the controller will set his salary higher than the mayor’s, I would not be surprised if the idea of an increase the mayor’s position comes up next year.