Duluth City Council votes to give mayor a raiseBeginning in December, Duluth Mayor Don Ness will begin taking home a larger paycheck — 25 percent larger. Duluth’s top elected city official will see his rate of pay increase from $78,000 to $97,500 per year.
By: Peter Passi, Duluth News Tribune
Beginning in December, Duluth Mayor Don Ness will begin taking home a larger paycheck — 25 percent larger. Duluth’s top elected city official will see his rate of pay increase from $78,000 to $97,500 per year.
City Councilor Sharla Gardner initially had proposed the mayor receive retroactive pay for all of 2013.
She noted that the mayor’s salary had not been adjusted since January 2000. Gardner said that if the mayor had received pay increases commensurate with those provided to unionized city staff, he would be receiving an annual salary of $103,740.
At Large City Councilor Emily Larson supported the proposed increase in pay for the mayor but offered an amendment providing no retroactive compensation. Instead, she called for Ness to begin receiving greater pay beginning Dec. 1.
“I think it is really important to remember that this is about a position and not a person. So part of what we’re looking at is how do we compensate an organizational leader,” she said.
“Because it is a job of public service, which is very different from a traditional employee, that piece of looking back felt more like a merit-based system, and I really liked the idea of separating it out as a position in and of itself,” Larson said.
David Montgomery, Duluth’s chief administrative officer, said Ness had not been involved in the council’s discussions about raising his pay but did not support the idea of any retroactive compensation.
“He’s just not comfortable with that retroactive approach,” Montgomery told the council.
Gardner supported Larson’s amendment, and the amended resolution passed 5-3 Monday night.
Those voting for the increased pay included councilors Gardner, Larson, Dan Hartman, Jennifer Julsrud and Linda Krug.
Voting against the resolution were councilors Patrick Boyle, Jim Stauber and Howie Hanson.
Stauber raised concerns about the lack of public process in determining the mayor’s pay and suggested it should be subject to more deliberation.
“I have no issue with giving the mayor a bit of a raise — maybe 1, 2 or 3 percent — but 25 percent is a bit over the top for me,” Stauber said.
Boyle said he would have liked a committee to review the matter and make its recommendations to the Duluth City Council before any action was taken.
Boyle thanked Gardner for bringing her resolution forward and dealing with a difficult issue.
“That being said, I still would rather have a better process with this,” Boyle said. “I feel a little rushed. I’d rather have a review committee formed and come up with recommendations and have them brought to the city council.
Hanson said that as a new councilor he didn’t want to rush the decision.
“The process moved too quickly for me,” he said. “As a new council member, I needed more time to consider this matter. It was nothing personal.”
Councilor Jay Fosle was not in attendance at Monday’s meeting.
Going forward, the council resolved that it establish a salary review committee to examine the mayor’s compensation no less than once every four years. This committee would include three city councilors, as well as three community members to be selected, appointed and approved by the council.
In the amendment she offered, Larson cited a resolution passed by the Duluth City Council in 1994 that recommended the city council revisit the mayor’s salary no less than every four years. Clearly, those periodic reviews have not occurred as planned in recent years.
The same 1994 resolution also called for a mayor’s pay to be established before he or she takes office.
It said: “The city council hereby indicates its intent to deal with proposed changes in the mayor’s salary only in June of those years which precede a new mayoral term, with any changes in such salary to become effective upon commencement of such new mayoral term.”
City Attorney Gunnar Johnson said he does not consider the 19-year-old resolution binding on the current city council.
“This was the intent of council members at that time,” he said. “It’s a simple resolution. If it had been included in the city code or the charter, it would have more teeth.”
In making the case for a raise, Gardner compared Ness’ duties to the demands of those tapped to lead Minnesota’s two biggest cities, which like Duluth have charters that delegate a large measure of authority to the mayor and his or her administration. She pointed to St. Paul, where the mayor receives an annual salary of $111,635, and Minneapolis, which pays its top elected public official $105,598 as the only comparable examples in the state.
Even with the increase approved Monday, Ness will receive 12.7 percent less than the mayor of St. Paul and 7.2 percent less pay than his counterpart in Minneapolis.
It should be noted that in addition to his salary, Ness does receive an annual vehicle allowance of $5,000 per year — a benefit that has remained unchanged for more than two decades, according to Peg Spehar, the city’s chief financial officer. The mayor is not provided with the use of a city vehicle.