Raises OK'd for Detroit leaders in 2016

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — A compensation panel on Monday recommended that the pay for Detroit's City Council and clerk rise 2.5 percent for the fiscal year 2016-17.

The recommendation, which comes just months after Detroit emerged from the nation's largest municipal bankruptcy, was opposed by some residents and retirees who packed City Hall during a public meeting last week to urge Detroit's Elected Officials Compensation Commission to vote against any salary bumps.

The pay increase recommendation would kick in July 1, 2016. Mayor Mike Duggan, who did not request an increase, is not included in the recommendation.

Samuel Buzz Thomas, commission chairman, noted Monday that the group reached the conclusion that salary increases for the city's elected officials should not be greater than those provided for other city employees in Detroit's bankruptcy plan of adjustment. Detroit has a four-year budget plan that runs through 2019.

"We thought it was really important that we follow the budget adopted coming out of bankruptcy," Thomas said after the vote. "The city laid out a very prescriptive four-year plan for all of its employees. We didn't think we should change that."

Thomas said recommending a raise now for council members and Clerk Janice Winfrey wouldn't be feasible since there's "clearly no money for any type of salary adjustment" in the upcoming budget year.

The pay increases, when implemented, will bring President Brenda Jones' annual salary to $82,776, and $78,761 per year for the other council members and Winfrey.

"I believe that we managed this process seriously and responsibly, and we deliberated very fairly on the information that was presented to us," Thomas said.

The compensation commission's recommendation will go into effect within 30 days, unless it is rejected by the City Council by a two-thirds vote.

Monday night's meeting marked the fourth by the seven-member commission in recent weeks. The panel had until April 20 to deliver its decision.

A handful of retirees and residents spoke to the commission before it unanimously adopted the resolution on salary.

The Rev. Sylvester Davis, a former heavy equipment operator for the city's water department, said he didn't think elected leaders should get more pay until retirees' pensions are made whole.

"I put in my time, served the city well," he said. "I'm not saying that the council shouldn't have a raise, but nobody should have a raise before my pension is restored."

But another retiree, Gloria C. Williams, said she believes that a pay raise is in order.

Williams, who formerly worked as an elections director under former City Clerk Jackie L. Currie, said she never saw Currie get a raise. She said increases have long been lacking and it's "unfair."

"I think City Council members should get an increase," she said.

Jones and Winfrey previously addressed the compensation board, saying they believe a pay adjustment was justified. The commission noted that it did not receive any oral or written comments on the matter from the mayor, other council members or the council as a body.

During the public comment period earlier this month, Jones told the commission that 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.

The salaries of Detroit elected officials were last increased by the Elected Officials Compensation Commission in 2001-02, the commission said.

Jones left Monday's meeting without commenting. Winfrey said she wasn't concerned with the outcome, only making sure that commissioners were aware that Detroit is the only large city that pairs the pay of its clerk with its council.

Last year, former Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr authorized 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. Council members had been making $73,181 and the president was paid $76,911. With the increase, the totals rose to $76,840 for council members, and $80,757 for Jones.

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

Although most non-uniform city employees will see a 2.5 percent raise in the 2017, 2018 and 2019 fiscal years, the commission did not take action beyond the 2016 fiscal year for elected officials.

Since it meets in odd years, the panel is slated to convene again in February 2017, and will take up further salary adjustments at that time, Thomas said.