Whitehall News

Raises for city leaders?

Councilman's Idea catches some off-guard

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Whitehall City Council members are poised to consider legislation providing salary increases for the offices of mayor, auditor, treasurer, city attorney, president of council and council members.

The salary increases would not be effective for the city administration and some council members until Jan. 1, 2016, and not for other council members until Jan. 1, 2018.

Council President Jim Graham introduced five ordinances at the Tuesday, Aug. 26, meeting of council committees, each amending the city's codified ordinances so as to increase the salary of specific elected officials.

The mayor's salary would be increased from $77,500 to $82,500; the auditor's from $75,000 to $80,000; the treasurer's from $7,500 to $8,500; the city attorney's from $75,000 to $80,000; and the president of council's from $5,400 to $6,600.

The salaries of the city's four ward representatives would increase from $4,600 to $5,200 effective Jan. 1, 2016, and the salaries of the city's three at-large council members would increase to the same amount Jan. 1, 2018.

Currently, at-large members earn $4,000 annually.

Not all council members were aware Graham had planned to present the legislation Aug. 26.

"I thought we were holding off until next year," Councilwoman Leslie LaCorte said.

"I don't recall making that decision," Graham replied.

Graham said LaCorte and other council members discussed possible salary increases about six months ago during a closed-door session.

LaCorte said Thursday, Aug. 28, she thought an agreement had been reached that no salary increases would be suggested until 2015.

But Graham said he recalled no such decision, particularly when decisions cannot lawfully be made during executive sessions.

Ohio Revised Code provides limited exceptions to Ohio's Sunshine Laws requiring that all meetings remain open to the public. Those exceptions include the discipline, dismissal, hiring and compensation of personnel, but no votes or action can be taken in an executive session.

LaCorte said she thought it was too soon to discuss salary increases, as the city's ward representatives last received a salary increase in 2012.

"Well, you're council president," she told Graham. "You lead and we'll follow."

No other council members addressed the legislation Aug. 26.

Graham said Aug. 28 he asked for the legislation to be prepared and did not explicitly communicate to other council members that he would introduce it, but said he believed the remainder of council was aware of his viewpoint.

"My big concern is I think we have qualified people in the city to run a million-dollar company, and Whitehall is a million-dollar company -- but why would those people leave another job for one they can have for only four or eight years, for less money than their current job?" Graham asked, referring to the limited terms of elected leaders in Whitehall.

While salary increases for the city's administrators have been proposed in the past, no ordinances have been considered for a vote, and the administration at the end of next year will have not have received a salary increase for 12 years.

The proposed salary increases for the offices of mayor, auditor, city attorney and treasurer would be effective Jan. 1, 2016. Council must act on the legislation prior to the end of next year as council members are not permitted to vote for salary increases for current offices.

Graham said the proposed increases are meant to make salaries more equivalent to what public officials earn in similar communities.

"It's a step in that direction," said Graham, adding he recommended council's new salary of $5,200, based on $100 per meeting for 52 meetings a year.

"School board members make $125 a meeting and the job of council is just as important," Graham said.

The proposed increases for council will also provide all members with an equal salary. Only ward representatives received an increase effective Jan. 1, 2012, because at-large seats were in mid-term.

LaCorte said Aug. 28 she is "appalled" that Graham forwarded the legislation, citing other lingering financial obligations, particularly the stalled effort to build a community center on the site of a former armory owned by the city.

Councilmen Wes Kantor and Chris Rodriguez both said they were unaware Graham would present the legislation, but Rodriguez said he was not wholly surprised as it had been previously discussed.

"In all, I'd say (our elected leaders) are underpaid for their time and what they do for our city," Rodriguez said.

"We shouldn't wait too long or we'll be facing another election cycle to do it."

Kantor said apart from the part-time treasurer, he would not support the proposed increases for the other elected offices or council.

"I was shocked to receive the legislation (for increases)," Kantor said. "I thought we had tabled it."

Auditor Dan Miller, who was not present at the Aug. 26 meeting, said Aug. 28 he was unaware Graham had proposed the legislation.

Miller said the proposed salary increases appeared "feasible" for inclusion in a 2016 budget, but council would need to take a closer look at the city's financial forecast before the legislation is considered.

Maggard said she considered the proposed increases "acceptable" and applied to the office, not individuals.

The legislation was scheduled for introduction and a first reading at the council meeting Tuesday, Sept. 2. It is scheduled for a second reading at the Sept. 16 council meeting and a third and final reading at the Oct. 7 meeting.

Graham said he wants all seven voting members of council present at the final reading and, if necessary, will ask for it to be postponed to a later date if all seven members are not present.

City Attorney Mike Shannon said any salary-related ordinance must be in place 21 days in advance of the filing deadline for the affected offices.

Whitehall has primary elections with filing deadlines the first week of February. The offices of mayor, auditor, treasurer, president of council and the city's ward representatives are up for election in 2015.

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