Pickerington City Council on Oct. 1 approved a pay raise for the mayor, which will bump the salary for the post by nearly four times its current amount.

Council voted 6-0 to increase the mayor's salary from $12,000 a year to $46,952. Councilman Jerry Dailey did not attend the meeting.

The increase is effective Jan. 1. It would ensure that, as of the effective date, the mayor of Pickerington would receive a salary that is twice as much as the annual salary of a Violet Township trustee.

Through 2019, the total compensation package for the mayor's office is:

* Salary -- $12,000;

* Insurance incentive (to not enroll in thecity's insurance program) -- $3,000;

* Pension/Medicare -- $1,897.50;

* Total -- $16,897.50.

The total compensation package starting Jan. 1, 2020, will be:

* Salary -- $46,952;

* Insurance incentive -- $3,000;

* Pension/Medicare -- $7,297.58;

* Total -- $57,249.58.

Council passed the ordinance to raise the mayor's pay after a single reading. It was able to do so after voting 5-1 to suspend the rules for the legislation.

Typically, legislative ordinances are read at three separate council meetings before a vote on the measure is taken.

The ThisWeek Pickerington Times-Sun spoke to City Council President Mike Sabatino and councilmen Tony Barletta, Crystal Hicks and Jacklyn Rohaly regarding both their support of the pay raise of the mayor's position and the decision to pass the ordinance after a single reading.

Council Vice President Tricia Sanders and Councilman Tom Romine did not respond to requests for comment.

Barletta, Hicks and Rohaly each said they supported the raise because of the amount of time the city's mayor, a position held by Lee Gray since January 2012, puts into the job.

They noted Gray serves as supervisor of the city manager, regularly attends council and other public meetings, as well as making public appearances at luncheons, business openings and other events.

"This was a long time coming," Rohaly said. "The position itself does so much for so much less than what it really should be making.

"The position oversees the city manager and has an actual staff that reports to him. You're supposed to be at all the events, all the meetings, all the time."

Barletta was the lone council member who voted against suspending the rules to approve the raise after a single public reading.

He said he ultimately supported the pay raise because he agreed the position "has been underpaid over the years."

Barletta said he didn't, however, think the raise should have been approved without the typical three legislative readings.

"There was no reason to suspend the rules," he said. "There was enough time on the calendar that the ordinance could've been passed (after three readings) and it would've still gone into effect at the beginning of the new term."

Gray, who also served as Pickerington's mayor from 1992-2000, is running unopposed to serve as mayor for another four years. If he serves out his full term, he will serve from Jan. 1, 2020 to Dec. 31, 2023.

Barletta said he also struggled with the amount given in the raise, but acknowledged the mayor's position in Pickerington calls for more work and public engagement than a typical part-time job that someone would work 20 hours or less a week.

Still, he agreed with Kevin Kemper, a candidate for City Council who spoke against the timing of the raise at the meeting.

"It really would've been better to work it out earlier in the year, not right around an election," Barletta said.

Kemper, who is seeking his first term on council, said he objected to the raise for several reasons.

He said he believed if council was going to issue a raise, it should have done so between January and July of this year, not after council members found out Gray was running unopposed and knew who would be serving as mayor for the next four years.

"Doing it in October, when they know who they are giving the raise to, puts council members in a horrible situation," Kemper said.

"If they vote 'no,' they have to wonder if the mayor will veto legislation that they bring up, and if they vote 'yes,' it looks like they are giving a large raise to colleague."

Kemper said he's not opposed to Gray receiving a raise, adding the mayor "works hard and has served the city for many years."

But he said there was no justification for passing the increase after a single legislative reading.

Further, he noted the agenda packet that was made public before the vote didn't state the amount of the raise being considered.

Rather, it stated " ... the salary paid to the mayor of Pickerington shall be raised for the term beginning January 1, 2020 to double the salary to be paid, pursuant to Section 505.24 of the Ohio Revised Code, for the position of an individual Violet Township trustee for calendar year 2020."

"I was looking online to find information about the ordinance because the agenda didn't say how much was being raised or why it was being raised now," Kemper said. "It's not like that's a technically difficult thing to do.

"It's a lack of transparency and that should worry residents. Is it that the city's slow to put this information out, or is it that they didn't want the information out?"

Although the amount council was considering for the raise wasn't included in the ordinance posted online before the meeting, observers could've determined what was being proposed if they located a Violet Township trustee's annual salary in the listed section of the Ohio Revised Code and then multiplied that figure by two.

"It was already out there and people knew about it," Rohaly said. "We weren't hiding anything and we were all unanimous in our decision."

As for why council suspended the rules to vote on the raise after a single reading, Sabatino first said it was at the request of Pickerington's finance director Chris Schornack.

Schornack said he did request the suspension of the rules for ordinances related to issuing notes to purchase land, to allocate money to buy a new police cruiser to replace one recently totaled in a crash, to refund money to the general fund from an expenditure related to work being done on Refugee Road and approve a natural gas aggregation plan for the city.

He said he asked that votes on each of those items be expedited because of upcoming deadlines, to get money back into the general fund as quickly as possible or to purchase the replacement police cruiser as soon as possible.

Schornack said he didn't request a suspension of the rules for the ordinance related to the mayor's salary.

After his initial statements about the suspension of the rules for the mayor's salary, Sabatino said he mistakenly thought the finance director had requested a suspension of the rules.

Sabatino, who expects to step down from council before the end of the year because he plans to move to Pataskala, said the expedited action made sense because council and the finance director could plan on the pay increase as the city's 2020 operating budget is being discussed in coming weeks.

"The whole idea in getting it expedited, in my mind, was because we're going to be dealing with the budget in a matter of weeks," Sabatino said. "I probably did misunderstand whether (Schornack) was asking for (the mayor's salary ordinance) was one we needed to suspend the rules on."

Hicks raised the motion to suspend the rules on the salary legislation. It was seconded by Sanders.

"I raised the motion because I was asked to by the council president (Sabatino)," Hicks said. "I was told the finance director asked for it."

Sabatino said council members did nothing unscrupulous by passing the ordinance after a single reading. He noted the measure was supported by all council members who were present at the meeting and, because the measure wasn't voted to go into effect immediately, it could be overturned if a group of residents upset by the action put a referendum on a future ballot for a citywide vote.

"It was not done by emergency (declaration)," Sabatino said. "If someone wanted to a do a referendum, they could.

"(Gray), or whoever else would be in that position deserves to be adequately compensated for the amount of time he puts in," Sabatino said.

"I decided it was a good idea because I know the amount of effort the mayor puts in. Everything I needed to know to determine how I was going to vote, I knew."

Gray, 52, owns pizza shops and properties he manages in the private sector. He said it was not up to him as to whether the mayor's position should receive a raise.

He did note, however, the salary has not been increased raised since he became mayor in 1992.

He said no one chose to run against him this fall, and the low amount of pay might have been a deterrent.

"When I was mayor for the first time in the '90s, we had just become a city and were around 5,000 people," Gray said. "Now, we're up to, I believe, about 21,000 to 22,000 people.

"I think we want the person that comes after me to come in and be able to devote the amount of time that's necessary," he said.

"I've been able to do it because I'm an independent businessperson and I have the ability to flex my schedule and give it that amount of time."

Gray said he doesn't keep track of the number of hours he puts into his job as mayor each week, but noted he tries to attend as many events within the city as he can while also attending to family obligations.

"The mayor's the No. 1 cheerleader for the community and it's important that you're out and about getting seen, talking to people and getting input," he said.

"I'm humbled and honored and appreciative that people I work with have seen the amount of effort and time it takes to perform the duties of the mayor's office.

"I enjoy being mayor and it's never been about the pay. I love the people and I consider it an honor to even have the title. The pay is now commensurate to the time that is necessary to spend in the operation of the office."

nellis@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNate