Raises for top city administrators, grumbling from below

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September 5, 2005 // UPDATED 1:57 pm - April 26, 2007
By: Scott Russell
Scott Russell

City employees' union criticizes double-digit hikes; who's overdue?

Nine of the city's top-paid administrators received a raise, thanks to a change in state law.

Proponents say the salary increase was overdue; state law had frozen city department leaders' wages below their approved pay scales. However, the increases don't sit well with union members who have seen minimal wage hikes since 2003.

The state imposes a salary cap on top-paid local government officials, called the governor's salary cap. Until recently, cities, counties or school

districts could pay administrative leaders no more than 95 percent of the governor's salary or $114,288 a year, unless the state approved an exemption. The 2005 Legislature approved a new cap: 110 percent of the governor's salary, or $132,333 a year.

Tim Giles, director of employee services, said the League of Minnesota Cities had pushed for the salary cap increase for several years, arguing the cities are in the best position to know how much they need to pay to stay competitive and attract and maintain qualified staff, not the state.

Klara Fabry, director of Public Works, got the largest salary hike, from $114,288 a year to $132,685, a 16 percent raise, according to a July 27 memo by Human Resources Director Pam French.

Eight other administrators got raises, the memo said. They were:

- John Moir, city coordinator, $129,850 to $133,746 (3 percent)

- Karl Kaiser, chief information officer, $114,288 to $129,193 (13 percent)

- Jay Heffern, city attorney, $116,000 to $128,614 (10.9 percent)

- Lee Sheehy, director, Community Planning and Economic Development, $114,288 to $123,132 (10.1 percent)

- Pat Born, finance director, $114,288 to $122,124 (9.7 percent)

- Jose Lopez, assistant city coordinator, $119,000 to $120,340 (1.1 percent)

- Rocco Forte, assistant city coordinator, $114,288 to $117,067 (2.4 percent)

- Fariboz Vazirabadi. deputy director, Transportation, $114,288 to $114,836 (.005 percent)

For the last five months of 2005, the salary increases will cost $32,083, the memo said. That is $77,000 a year, or roughly the cost of one full-time police officer.

The top brass pay hikes have drawn criticism from AFSMCE Council 5, which represents nearly 900 city clerical staff, city planners, emergency communications workers and city attorneys.

Executive Director Eliot Seide said union workers making $25,000-$35,000 a year have to live with a 2 percent wage cap, and the city should have held top administrators to the same standard. "It seems to me to be blatantly unfair," he said.

The City Council passed the 2 percent cap in January 2003. It limits total dollars available for salary increases to 2 percent; some workers might get more than 2 percent, others less. The Council approved the cap following state-aid cuts. Mayor R.T. Rybak's proposed 2006 budget continues the 2 percent cap.

Mayoral spokesman Jeremy Hanson said AFSCME was comparing apples to oranges. The 2 percent wage policy affects all city employees, including the top managers, he said.

The Council had adopted salary schedules for each manager based on market studies and other factors; the last was done in 1999. Administrators had been paid less than their approved salaries because of the governor's salary cap. When the state law changed, the city could pay the approved rate.

A new market study is planned this year.

Seide said AFSCME supported raising the governor's salary cap. It represents employees who were hitting the cap, notably Ramsey County attorneys.

Still, Seide noted that the city of Minneapolis did not have to give its top administrators raises. Even if administrators were underpaid compared to the market, he said he believes AFSCME workers are also underpaid.

AFSCME is active in this year's city election largely because it opposes the 2 percent wage cap. The union has endorsed Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin for mayor, who has called the 2 percent cap "arbitrary."

Green Party endorsed candidate Farheen Hakeem said she would have to explore the wage cap issue before taking a position.

The votes

The city's Human Resources Department increased top salaries administratively Aug. 1. It did not require a City Council vote. The Council voted 8-5 to receive the salary report Aug. 5, giving tacit approval for the raises.

Voting yes were Paul Ostrow (1st Ward), Don Samuels (3rd Ward), Barb Johnson (4th Ward), Goodman, Dan Niziolek (10th Ward), Scott Benson (11th Ward), Sandy Colvin Roy (12th Ward) and Barret Lane (13th Ward).

Voting no were Paul Zerby (2nd Ward), Natalie Johnson Lee (5th Ward), Dean Zimmermann (6th Ward), Robert Lilligren (8th Ward) and Gary Schiff (9th Ward).