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South Salt Lake Journal

Debate over elected officials’ compensation continues with city council, mayor

Feb 23, 2022 06:56PM ● By Bill Hardesty

By Bill Hardesty | [email protected]

The ghost of “City Council Past” delivered a political football to the new city council. At the Feb. 9 South Salt Lake City Council meeting, a resolution to repeal a forgotten ordinance titled the Elected Officials Compensation Commission was presented. After some challenging discussion, the motion was moved to a future undetermined council meeting.

“This is the ordinance that we all forgot about while dealing with Covid and the Civilian Review Board. Also, there was no interest in raises considering the budget uncertainty we were facing,” chairperson Sharla Bynum said earlier.

The Elected Officials Compensation Commission

The ordinance states in the year of a mayoral election, such as 2021, a commission would be staffed with three residents selected by the mayor, three residents chosen by the city council, and one additional resident selected by a majority of the other six.

The commission’s job is to recommend to the city council what the annual salary should be for the mayor, the yearly salary for members of the city council, and “any other compensation or benefits matters the commission considers pertinent.”

The ordinance states that before March of the year of the mayoral election, human resources would complete a salary and benefits survey of mayors and council members compensation for similar-sized cities that have a full-time mayor.

The commission’s recommendation is due before April’s second city council meeting. The city council would then establish for the next four years the mayor’s salary and the salary of the city council. However, the council is not bound to accept the commission’s recommendations.

While the ordinance seems clear, the reasoning behind it is murky. During the Feb. 9 meeting, there were accusations about the motive behind the ordinance.

Bynum began the discussion with a brief history. She mentioned the compromise was made when the council debated if the mayor should get any raise given to other full-time employees.

“The one thing I really want to make a note of is the council has drastically changed from that time. That’s why we are revisiting this. The compromise at the time was to model an ordinance after Provo City so that we could have our residents kind of have a say in it,” Bynum said. “Now at the time most of us were willing to take that compromise. However, I had very strong issues with the fact that we weren’t going to do it immediately and that it was being pushed off to the year of a mayoral election.”

Bynum concluded with her last concern by saying, “My fifth concern came when a former council member reached out to someone who was on the council to try to get this on the agenda. We were already past creating a committee for the March deadline. And it was then that it kind of struck me that maybe this was a somewhat manipulative move to place in a year of a mayoral election. It never felt right to me. It felt like we should be doing it closer to the beginning of the mayor’s term.”

“I do believe that this compromise was made after a major shaming campaign that was put on by certain council members that I would even ask for a raise after being here for eight years,” Mayor Cherie Wood said in the meeting. “They called the media on me. They tried to humiliate me in public meetings.”

The city attorney Josh Collins recommended the council should repeal it and start the discussion again.

The majority of the council agreed. However, Shane Siwik, District 5, suggested amending the ordinance to have the commission at the beginning of the mayor’s term.

“I guess I’m just going to go back to the core part of this ordinance. And taking the ordinance at face value,” Siwik said. “It has nothing to do with the mayor’s performance. It has nothing to do with elections. It has everything to do with creating a commission to make a recommendation to the city council. Ultimately the council has the final say. All this ordinance does is empower seven community members to make a recommendation to us as to what that salary adjustment should be. What’s wrong with keeping that?”

“You know, my heart and soul are with the city,” Wood said. “And when we talk about the residents having a say, I think their votes also have a say. I won four elections in this community. So, I feel personally that that should count for something.”

Gender discrimination

Another accusation made centered on gender discrimination.

“We know gender pay gaps and inequities are ubiquitous in our culture. My understanding is that prior to my tenure as mayor, the male mayors of South Salt Lake were consistently offered the same salary increase as other city employees,” Wood said after the meeting. “For whatever reason, that practice ended during my first term as mayor. As a result, I have not had a salary increase in 11 years. While this is disappointing personally, it is also harmful for the city. Competitive salaries for public servants are essential to hiring and retaining dedicated and qualified elected officials and staff.”

The mayor is a full-time position. The mayor’s salary is in the municipal code (2.04.065) at $6,791 per month ($81,492 annual).

Council members serve part time. According to the municipal code (2.08.075), council members receive $946 per month ($11,352 annual). They also receive a contribution into a retirement account of 17.29% of their monthly salary. The council chair receives a pay differential of $300 per month.

Comparing compensation with Taylorsville City, which also has a full-time mayor, the Taylorsville mayor compensation was set at $78,925 in 2008. Given this wording in the code “together with any general compensation adjustments approved by the city council for full-time city employees.”

The same is valid for city council members. Their compensation was set at $12,650 annually in 2008. However, they also receive “any general compensation adjustments approved by the city council for full-time city employees.”

“My goal is simply to be compensated fairly and to the level of similarly sized cities,” Wood said.

SSL government

SSL has a strong mayor/city council form of government. The council is the legislative branch of the government, and the mayor is the executive branch. Stated another way, the council approves any changes to the SSL municipal code, and the mayor and her staff implement the change.