Detroit city clerk makes pitch for $20K raise

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — Fresh off a narrow win in November, City Clerk Janice Winfrey is making her case for a $20,000 pay raise.

Winfrey made the pitch for more pay in writing Monday to a compensation panel that’s convening to evaluate the salaries of the Detroit’s elected leaders.

In her letter, Winfrey urged the Detroit Elected Officials Compensation Commission to consider boosting her $78,761 annual salary to one that’s in line with other Michigan clerks in similar-size cities that earn more than she does yet oversee smaller budgets.

“As you consider whether to raise the compensation of Detroit’s elected officials, I implore you to consider the progress I have made ... and the added responsibility associated with operating the largest and most complex City Clerk operation in the state of Michigan,” Winfrey wrote.

The commission, which meets in odd years, last recommended a pay hike for Detroit’s City Council in 2015 as well as a bump for the clerk of 2.5 percent for fiscal year 2016-17. The commission met Thursday for the first time in 2017, but did not discuss Winfrey’s request.

Winfrey told The Detroit News late Thursday that her salary pales next to other Michigan clerks, yet “I have the bulk of the responsibility.”

“I’m not asking for anything excessive. I’m just asking for a fair rate,” she told The News. “I’ve always advocated for fairness in the job. It’s not about me. It’s about the position.”

Within her letter, Winfrey cites a recent compensation survey of comparably sized cities with smaller, less complex clerk operations. The data, she wrote, reveals that Detroit’s clerk is “grossly underpaid.”

Salary statistics show Southfield’s clerk earns $99,000, oversees a $1.2 million budget and has 60,000 registered voters. In Grand Rapids, the clerk is paid $106,000, a budget of about $2.4 million and 133,786 registered voters, according to Winfrey’s letter.

As Detroit clerk, Winfrey oversees a $13 million budget and about 200 full and part-time employees, 8,000 poll workers and 590 voting precincts. Detroit has 469,121 registered voters.

In 2015, Winfrey and council President Brenda Jones called for a pay boost, citing, in part, voluntary 10 percent pay reductions in 2010.

With the 2015 adjustments, Winfrey and City Council members earn $78,761. Council President Brenda Jones is paid $82,776.

The 2015 increases were approved a few months after the city emerged from the largest municipal bankruptcy in the nation’s history and met opposition from some residents, activists and retirees.

Mayor Mike Duggan is paid $166,487 per year. Duggan did not ask for an increase in 2015 and was not included in the compensation panel’s recommendation.

Alexis Wiley, Duggan’s chief of staff, confirmed last week the mayor will not be requesting an increase this year, either.

Winfrey on Thursday noted even with the previous 2.5 percent increase, it still doesn’t make her whole for the prior 10 percent cut.

Prior to 2015, the salaries of Detroit elected officials were last increased by the compensation commission in 2001-02.

No city council members have yet submitted a formal request for additional pay.

The compensation commission briefly convened Thursday, naming Isaiah McKinnon as its chairman and Paul Novak as vice chairman. The group was set to hold its first meeting on Monday, but the session was canceled because it lacked a quorum.

The five-member group unanimously approved resolutions seeking input from Detroit’s elected leaders on salary adjustments, a compensation analysis from the city’s Human Resources Department and a report on how its actions may affect the city’s budget.

“I’m also interested in what the salary adjustments for the elected officials would look like if they were moving in tandem and at the same rate as city employees generally,” Novak said during the meeting, adding “it was an important factor the last time.”

Winfrey was elected to her fourth term as clerk on Nov. 7. She retained her seat by 1,482 votes in a tight race against challenger, Garlin Gilchrist II.

On Tuesday, a recount of the city’s election for clerk began at Cobo Center — two weeks after Gilchrist announced he was requesting a recount of all absentee votes in the wake of his narrow loss. Winfrey received 50.6 percent of the votes to Gilchrist’s 49.1 percent.

Gilchrist has said he believes the recount is necessary after hearing stories of “chaos and confusion” from absentee voters.

Recount officials said late Wednesday about 10 absentee precincts were not recountable.

Winfrey says there will always be a small amount “because of human error,” but said “the great majority are recountable.” Overall, the election went well, Winfrey added, and she doesn’t expect any changes in the outcome.

“We are continuously improving and the outcome of the recount is going to reflect that,” she said.