mayor’s salary re-opened for discussion
SNOHOMISH — Mayor John Kartak’s printed commentary where he opined on the mayor’s salary being $18,000 a year sparked City Council interest last week on how to approach altering it. A workshop is forthcoming.
Councilman Tom Merrill wants a committee of City Council members and volunteers to set elected officials’ salaries. A council majority appears to support this idea.
Councilman Steve Dana wants to see an independent salary commission call the shots, like what other cities such as Everett and Monroe do. An independent group strips away any politics about paying the mayor, Dana said.
Merrill opposes creating a salary commission for one factor: The volunteers would be deciding how much public money to spend on salaries without being accountable to City Council members, the people who were elected to be the city’s financial stewards. Plus, the mayor would appoint who’d be on a salary commission.
Both agree that either way, it’s past time to look again at pay.
“This conversation should have happened a few months before the candidate filing period” that happened last week, Dana said.
In 2017, the council set the mayor’s salary to $18,000 a year ($1,500 a month) as part of preparing for the city’s change to its “strong mayor” format. The thought was the elected mayor would be a part-time role and that the city administrator would handle day-to-day issues at City Hall. It wasn’t fathomed $18,000 would be enough for a mayor to live on without other income. However, Mayor Kartak works full-time as the mayor, just like he told the Tribune he would before he was elected in 2017.
In the latest edition of the city’s quarterly magazine, Kartak criticized the salary, writing in his Mayor’s Message column that as part of a smooth transition, he promised the public that “regardless of the unnecessarily low, part-time salary, I would work full-time. This has been a difficult sacrifice for my family, but running your City should not be treated as a secondary hobby.”
It got people’s attention. Dana, for one, said he got a lot of phone calls about the article asking “‘what’s the deal here?’”
Merrill said Kartak’s article read like a “campaign kickoff” if he wanted to run for re-election. Kartak ultimately did.
Murmurs on upping the mayor’s salary have bubbled over the past four years, and the City Council had a whole conversation about the salary at its July 17, 2018 meeting; they had no consensus to change it then.
Merrill said in a conversation that the timing for re-introducing the topic was in direct response to Kartak’s city magazine column, and emphasized he didn’t bring it up because it was candidate filing week that week. Councilwoman Linda Redmon made it public months ago that she is running for mayor. The council meeting was the first one since the magazine arrived in mailboxes.
The City Council concluded on $18,000 for the mayor’s pay after being guided by pay survey of similarly sized cities between 7,500 and 15,000 people in Snohomish, King and Pierce counties.
That 2016 data is outdated now, Merrill said.
At the time the 2016 data was being discussed, resident Steve Humphries produced an independent state-wide mayoral salary study looking at cities that are about the same size as Snohomish. He told the City Council he found that the average pay of strong mayors for cities about the same size of Snohomish was between $28,000 to $30,000.
The city’s study used pay data that listed strong mayors and non-executive weak mayors together to generate the median income.
Dana said the next time around, the mayor’s salary should include additional pay for attending regional government meetings and conferences as an extra benefit for putting in the work. He called $1,500 a month “paltry pay” in an interview.
A late call to Kartak to discuss the magazine column wasn’t returned by press time.
Monroe’s and Everett’s salary commissions convene every few years. Both commissions most recently decided to not increase pay rates during the pandemic.
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