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Residents, retirees speak out against officials' raises

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — Frustrated residents and retirees crowded a public meeting room Monday in harsh opposition to the prospect of pay increases for Detroit's elected officials.

The Spirit of Detroit

Many said they were appalled that Detroit's Elected Officials Compensation Commission convened on the matter just months after the city emerged from the largest municipal bankruptcy in the history of the nation.

"The timing is terrible," said resident Tom Wilson, stressing that city's general and uniform retirees are enduring pension reductions and health care changes that officially kicked in at the beginning of the month.

"When you consider that the city is only three months out of bankruptcy, we're not out of the woods yet. I can't see for the life of me them asking for a raise."

Monday's meeting spanned more than two hours and was the third hosted by the seven-member commission in recent weeks. Members have 45 days to decide the compensation of Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, City Council members, City Clerk Janice Winfrey and members of the Board of Police Commissioners.

The discussions come as pension and health care changes called for in the city's court-approved bankruptcy plan took effect March 1 for an estimated 20,000 retirees in the city's two pension funds.

Under the plan, pensions of police and firefighters were not cut, but their annual 2.25 percent cost-of-living adjustment is reduced to about 1 percent. General workers have a 4.5 percent base cut in pensions and the elimination of an annual cost-of-living increase.

In addition, the city will seek to recoup $239 million from the optional annuity savings fund accounts of some general retirees who were credited with interest earnings that exceeded actual returns.

"Before there's any consideration to them getting a raise, the retirees should be restored," argued William Davis, a retiree and president of the Detroit Active and Retired Employees Association, which is appealing the terms of the bankruptcy plan. "This is crazy."

Resident Valerie Burris turned up Monday to encourage the commission to reject the raises.

"At this time it's just totally out of order to be increasing the salary of any elected official or appointee," she said. "I'm here against this. The City Council right now makes at least three times the average resident of the city of Detroit. These are public servants."

A bump in pay will likely require a budget amendment that would have to be approved by the city's Financial Review Commission and perhaps also the state treasurer, Detroit lawyer Timothy Beckett said Monday.

The city operates under the control of the Financial Review Commission, which must sign off on its four-year budget plan, certain contracts and other transactions. Duggan and council President Brenda Jones are among its nine members.

Jones and Winfrey previously addressed the compensation board, saying they believe a pay adjustment is warranted.

The issue, Jones said, is "very sensitive" and "I don't have any problem speaking up for myself."

She's told the commission her workdays often exceed 12 hours, the council hasn't had a raise since 2001 and the panel took a voluntary 10 percent pay reduction in 2010.

On Monday, Jones sat quietly for more than an hour at the meeting and later listened to opponents sound off against her salary being increased. Administration officials have said Duggan is not seeking a raise.

Last year, former Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr instituted a 5 percent pay increase for Duggan, council members and other non-union city workers.

The move increased the mayor's annual pay from $158,559 to $166,487 a year. Council members had been making $73,181 and the president was paid $76,911. With the increase, the totals rose to $76,840 and $80,757 for Jones.

The 5 percent increases, however, were offset that July by a mandatory 5 percent pension contribution.

A salary survey comparison previously compiled by the city's Human Resources Department shows the city's elected officials are under-compensated relative to peers. It concluded that Duggan is paid 11 percent less than his peers in a dozen cities with comparable political structures, council members are paid 21 percent less, the council president is paid 33 percent less and the city clerk is paid 43 percent less.

The compensation commission has another meeting set for Monday. The deadline for a decision is April 20.