Columbia City Council unanimously OKs salary increase for mayor

The Columbia City Council is a step closer to finalizing the details of how the mayor will operate under a strong-mayor form of government. In a second reading of the ordinance, City Council voted unanimously in favor of capping the mayor’s salary under the strong-mayor form at $160,000.

If the Dec. 3 referendum does not pass, Council voted in favor of a second motion to set the mayor’s salary at $75,000 under the current form of government.

The mayor’s salary is currently set at $17,500. Under a strong-mayor form of government, the allocated salary would be nine times higher than the current figure. It is still lower, however, than the $190,000 salary that City Manager Teresa Wilson earns, despite the fact that the mayor would assume Wilson’s duties if a strong mayor is enacted.

The council was up against the clock again as they neared the deadline to make a decision on increasing the compensation for the strong mayor. Council members had to pass the revised ordinance during Tuesday’s meeting or at the Oct. 15 meeting, before the upcoming November election.

If a decision could not be reached, the council would have to wait until the next general election Nov. 5, 2015, to adjust the city’s budget to reflect the salary change.

Getting to a number was not easy. Some council members questioned what the mayor would be paid for. Councilwoman Tameika Issac Devine asked if the mayor should be paid based on his or her duties or based on time spent executing the duties of the position.

“Regardless of the form of government that has been contemplated, you have a mayor that is spending a lot of time in the position,” Devine said. “Are we compensating for time spent or are we compensating for authority?”

Officials from the city attorney’s office stated that a salary is typically first set based on the authority and responsibilities of a full-time person. If that person switched to a part-time schedule, they generally would get a reduction in salary.

In the case of Wilson, her appointment needed to reflect state code, which states that “The manager shall be employed solely on the basis of his executive and administrative qualifications.”

According to state law, if a strong mayor is elected, the city manager’s position would be eliminated, as the mayor would take over those duties.  The city attorney’s office said in that case, Wilson would receive severance pay of one year’s salary.

It is also likely that the assistants who work under Wilson would lose their positions as well. The strong mayor can decide what, if any, Cabinet staff would be assigned to work with him or her and can also set salaries for those positions. This also includes a city administrator to assist with daily operations.

There’s also the issue of the mayor working a side job. State law does not require the mayor to engage in his or her duties full time. City Attorney Ken Gaines mentioned that some municipalities had mayors who worked other full-time jobs.

Gaines reminded council that the mayor is an elected official not an employee of the city.

Regardless, council does have recourse on adjusting the salary. Gaines said that the state statute refers only to an increase in the salary not a decrease. Every two years, the council can convene to adjust the mayor’s salary.

That gave Councilman Brian Newman the go-ahead to move to set the ceiling for the mayor’s compensation for both forms of government.

Those motions also included an amendment from Councilman Cameron Runyan, who added an employment exclusivity agreement to keep the mayor from obtaining outside work.

The increase did not include the benefits package.  The salary will not go into effect until the next fiscal year, which starts July 1, 2014.

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