Should new police chief make $142,000?

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November 3, 2003 // UPDATED 11:06 am - April 30, 2007
By: Scott Russell
Scott Russell

Council vote to top state salary cap is close

The Minneapolis police chief's pay plan has become a political hot potato.

Pam French, the city's human resources director, said Minneapolis needs to raise the police chief's annual salary range by $26,000 -- from $116,000 to $142,000 -- to attract a diverse candidate pool.

A slim majority of City Councilmembers agrees. The minority argue that qualified internal police chief candidates would work for the current salary -- and the salary increase was a symbolic vote to hire an outside candidate.

The city must get permission from the state Legislature and Gov. Tim Pawlenty to raise the chief's pay. State law limits local government salaries to 95 percent of the governor's salary. Pawlenty makes $120,303; 95 percent is $114,288.

The city's track record at the Capitol is not good: the state has rejected two-thirds of Minneapolis' salary cap exemption requests since 1997 -- by far the worst batting average of any local government.

French said Minneapolis is competing head-to-head for top police chief candidates with several large cities -- Dallas; San Jose, Calif.; Memphis; Portland; Norfolk, Va., and several others, she said. City research says that $142,000 represents an average police chief salary of cities dealing with urban crime problems similar to Minneapolis.

"Should we continue to be restricted by the salary cap, we are almost assured that

our external applicants will be from smaller communities and those not facing the

complexities found in a major urban center," she wrote to the City Council's Ways and Means Committee.

The City Council voted 7-6 Oct. 24 to ask for a state exemption, a vote that revealed a Council rift.

Voting no were Barbara Johnson (4th Ward), Dean Zimmermann (6th Ward), Lisa Goodman (7th Ward), Robert Lilligren (8th Ward), Gary Schiff (9th Ward) and Sandy Colvin Roy (12th Ward).

Some argued for the salary cap increase because the police chief had the city's single-most important and difficult job. Councilmember Scott Benson (11th Ward) said a private-sector job with equivalent stress and demands would draw a $500,000 salary.

Mayor R.T. Rybak said Minneapolis "deserves the best. This vote is about respecting that."

Schiff said the vote "places a premium on outside candidates" and shows "a lack of self-esteem" for internal candidates. Colvin Roy said the pay raise request would only give the governor and fiscally conservative legislators one more excuse to criticize Minneapolis.

The Council debate was the easy part. If past history is an indication, Minneapolis will have an uphill battle at the state.

The Legislative Joint Subcommittee on Employee Relations has heard 50 salary-cap exemption requests since 1997, and has rejected 15, or 30 percent, according to its Web site. A majority -- nine -- involved the city of Minneapolis.

The state rejected 64 percent of the city's requests (nine of 14). Take Minneapolis out of the mix, and the state has rejected only 17 percent of requests from other jurisdictions.

The Subcommittee granted Minneapolis an increase in the police chief's pay in 2000. The chief's salary cap at the time was $114,288 and the city asked to increase the cap to $130,000. The state OK'd an increase to $116,000 -- a bump of less than $2,000 a year.

The City Coordinator position received the largest increase from the state. The city requested a top pay of $150,079 and the Subcommittee approved $138,215.

The city hired George Gmach of Employers Association, Inc. to help with its salary appeal at the state. Gmach's research developed the $142,000 salary cap request, one proponents say is middle of the road.

(The pay cap does not guarantee the chief would receive that $142,000 salary; it sets a maximum.)

The eight cities Gmach used for his comparison are: Oklahoma City; Denver; Fort Worth and Austin, Texax; Portland, O.R.; Baltimore; Seattle; and Phoenix. The police chiefs' salaries in those cities ranged from $120,812 (Oklahoma City) to $164,510 (Phoenix).

Each city in the comparison had a larger population than Minneapolis' 382,618. They ranged from Oklahoma City (486,699) to Phoenix (1,331,045).

Gmach said Minneapolis is geographically constrained and the city itself serves an urban core as large as other comparable cities. "All the problems facing Baltimore and Phoenix are facing Minneapolis," he said.

At least one proponent had reservations. Councilmember Paul Zerby (2nd Ward) voted for the pay cap raise but said during a Ways and Means Committee meeting he worried about creating pay disparities among the city's top managers.