Editor’s note: At a mid-December 2010 film premiere in Ann Arbor, Kirk Westphal unveiled two of his latest works. The second of them he described as suitable for “true wonks” – “The Council-Manager Form of Local Government.” The movie is an introduction to how the council-manager system is different from a strong mayor system. The city of Ann Arbor uses a modified version of the council-manager form. One issue that arises in the film is cost: How do the two systems compare with respect to compensation?
In this article, The Chronicle takes a look at some of the recent history of compensation for Ann Arbor’s mayor and city councilmembers. The context for this reflection also stems in part from the fact that 2011, as an odd-numbered year, will be an occasion on which mayor and councilmember salaries are re-evaluated for 2012 and 2013.
As a minor part of his 2010 campaign for a Ward 5 city council seat, Newcombe Clark promised that if elected he would donate to charity the annual councilmember salary of $15,913. At a Main Street Area Association candidate forum, Clark gave this rationale for his promised salary donation: Negotiations with the city’s labor unions would be difficult, if councilmembers were collecting “a single dime” for something they should do on a volunteer basis.
For most Ward 5 voters, Clark’s promise and its premise were not a deciding factor, and Democrat Carsten Hohnke was re-elected on Nov. 2 to a second two-year term with 69% of the vote. The remaining 31% of the vote was split – 22% for Republican John Floyd and 9% for the independent Clark.
Still, based on last year’s city council budget discussions, current city councilmembers recognize that their own compensation is part of the relevant context for any financial sacrifices they might request of others. Last year, a council request for sacrifice came as the city was negotiating with the firefighters union to prevent layoffs, and as the council requested a reduction in non-union staff compensation by 3%. In that context, some councilmembers, including the mayor, announced a voluntary 3% salary giveback of their own. For councilmembers, that meant writing a $477 check, while for the mayor it represented $1,273. [The mayor's salary for 2010 is $42,436.]
So as the city council enters its budget planning phase for fiscal year 2012, compensation levels – for non-union and union labor alike, as well as for elected city officials – could become one focus of the conversation. That’s especially true, given that FY 2012 is the first year of a two-year budget planning cycle. Even though the council approves each year’s budget separately every May – for the fiscal year beginning July 1 – the planning takes place in two-year cycles. And it’s the first year of the planning cycle when the context is set for the second year.
Compensation for councilmembers and the mayor is also set on a two-year cycle, and 2011 will be a calendar year when a decision could be made to change their salaries. The every-odd-year session of the local officers compensation commission (LOCC) – the body that sets council and mayoral salaries – is prescribed by the state enabling statute on which the city’s LOCC ordinance is based.
With the LOCC scheduled to meet sometime in 2011, and with two current vacancies on the seven-member body, it’s a suitable time to reflect on: (1) the history of the LOCC’s recommendations over the last decade; (2) the rationale behind those recommendations; and (3) the way that expectations of the mayor and councilmembers have been implicitly defined through those recommendations.
The Ann Arbor city charter actually stipulates that city councilmembers receive no compensation at all, and that the compensation for the mayor is determined by the city council:
Compensation of Officers
SECTION 12.6. (a) Each member of the Council, except the Mayor, shall serve without pay. The compensation of the Mayor shall be fixed by the Council. When authorized by the Council, necessary expenses may be allowed to its members when actually incurred on behalf of the City. [Ann Arbor City Charter]
But in 1972, the state legislature amended the Home Rule Cities Act with a law that allowed cities to create local officers compensation commissions to set salaries of local officials. From Section 117.5c of the Michigan Compiled Laws:
In place of a charter provision existing on December 31, 1972 establishing the salaries or the procedure for determining salaries of elected officials, the governing body may establish, by ordinance, the procedure described in this section, in which case the restriction contained in a charter provision with respect to changing salaries during term shall be inapplicable.
So in 1975, the city of Ann Arbor added Chapter 22 to its city code, which established such a commission under the state law, thus overriding the city charter stipulation that Ann Arbor city councilmembers serve without pay.
Following the state enabling legislation, the city’s ordinance section outlines the establishment of a seven-member local officers compensation commission (LOCC) that determines the compensation of the mayor and city councilmembers.
The commission is required to meet every odd-numbered year to determine the salaries of elected officials for the next two years. The last time the LOCC met, in 2009, it recommended salaries for 2010 and 2011. The commission is required to meet at some point in 2011, to recommend salaries for 2012 and 2013.
Another restriction placed on the commission members is how long they can deliberate on their decision. The commission may meet up to 15 times, and it must make a decision within 45 days of its first meeting. The historical pattern over the last 10 years has been for Ann Arbor’s LOCC to meet in the last part of the calendar year, but in 2009 a decision was reached in May.
The decision of the LOCC automatically takes effect unless the city council rejects the decision by a 2/3 majority. No action is required by the city council in order for the LOCC decision to be implemented. It’s thus not possible for councilmembers and the mayor to vote themselves a raise. They can, however, vote to reject a raise or – if the LOCC were to decide a pay cut was appropriate – vote to stave off that pay cut.
Who Serves on the LOCC?
As detailed in the city’s ordinance, based on the state statute:
The members [of the LOCC] shall be registered electors of the city, appointed by the mayor subject to confirmation by a majority of the members elected and serving in the legislative body. … No member or employee of the legislative, judicial or executive branch of any level of government or members of the immediate family of such member or employee shall be eligible to be a member of the commission.
So, members of the LOCC must be registered voters of the city and, like most other city commissions or boards, they are nominated by the mayor and approved by the city council.
Excluded from service on the LOCC are any members or employees of any branch of government at any level – executive, legislative, or judicial – along with the immediate family of such members or employees.
While the language in the statute and the city’s ordinance is fairly broad, there are at least three entities which the city of Ann Arbor does not appear to treat as part of any branch of government in the sense of its ordinance: (1) the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board; (2) the city’s greenbelt advisory commission (GAC); and (3) the board of canvassers. Roger Hewitt currently serves on Ann Arbor’s DDA as well as the LOCC. Martha Darling currently serves on the city’s LOCC; her husband Gil Omenn serves on the GAC. And finally, William Lockwood serves as a member of the board of canvassers – the body responsible for verifying city election results – as well as the LOCC.
Added shortly after initial publication: In addition, Fred McDonald serves on the LOCC; his son, Kevin McDonald, is employed by the city of Ann Arbor as an assistant city attorney.
City attorney Stephen Postema did not respond to an email asking for comment on the LOCC membership question. The state attorney general’s office indicated to The Chronicle in a phone interview that for this kind of issue, a formal opinion from the state attorney general would be required. In a phone interview, Bill Mathewson, general counsel for the Michigan Municipal League, said that with respect to a downtown development authority, he did not see any immediate legal conflict with service on a LOCC, and observed that DDAs are autonomous entities.
The state statute sets the size of Ann Arbor’s LOCC at seven members – because its population exceeds 20,000 people. Cities with fewer than 20,000 residents can establish five-member LOCCs.
While a full term for a LOCC member is seven years, the recent history of Ann Arbor’s LOCC has included instances of partial terms served. And with one member’s death in 2006 and the expiration of another member’s term, the commission is currently left with two vacancies and five experienced members: Fred McDonald, Martha Darling, Roger Hewitt, William Lockwood, and Eunice Burns.
Fred McDonald is the longest-serving LOCC member, having been appointed in 1999; McDonald co-founded Scroll Capital Partners … McDonald is a partner in the law firm Hamilton McDonald & Carter. His current LOCC term expires in 2014.
Martha Darling has served on the LOCC since 2005. Although she retired from her work at the Boeing Co., she continues to stay involved with community affairs. Darling is vice chair of the board of trustees for the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation (AAACF), co-chair of Washtenaw Success by 6 and a board member of the Michigan Theater and Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra. Her current term expires in 2012.
Roger Hewitt, who has served since 2003, is proprietor of the Red Hawk Bar & Grill in Ann Arbor. He recently co-founded a coffee shop and specialty grocery market on the ground floor of Zaragon Place: revive + replenish. He’s on the board of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority and the State Street Area Association. His current term expires in 2014.
William Lockwood is a telecommunications executive and also serves on the board of canvassers for the city of Ann Arbor. Lockwood began serving on the LOCC in 2000 and his current term is set to expire in 2012.
Eunice Burns, a former DDA board member and former Ann Arbor city councilmember, has been serving on the LOCC since 2003 – her current term expires in 2014. Burns also serves as a Huron River Watershed Council liaison for the city of Ann Arbor.
Rachel Tiedke and Michael Schippani had filled the remaining two spots. Tiedke passed away in 2006, and Schippani’s term expired in 2009. Both spots have yet to be filled. Thus, the commission has not had a full complement of seven members since its 2005 meetings.
Here’s an overview of LOCC membership [last name only], based on minutes for LOCC meetings from 1999-2009 and city records of current membership:
1999 Dobson Eldersveld Tiedke Edwards Beal 2001 Dobson Eldersveld Koen McDonald * Edwards Beal 2003 Hewitt Schippani Koen McDonald Tiedke DeVarti Burns 2005 Hewitt Schippani Darling McDonald Tiedke Lockwood Burns 2007 Hewitt Schippani Darling McDonald Lockwood Burns 2009 Hewitt Schippani Darling McDonald Lockwood Burns 2011 Hewitt Darling McDonald Lockwood Burns
[* Although Rachel Tiedke was appointed in 1999, her name is not reflected in any of the 2001 meeting minutes.] Full names of members: Stephen Dobson, Roger Hewitt, Sam Eldersveld, Michael Schippani, Michael Koen, Martha Darling, Fred McDonald, Rachel Tiedke, Joseph Edwards, David DeVarti, William Lockwood, Fred Beal, Eunice Burns.
1999-2009 LOCC Decisions, Council Rejections
The table below summarizes the outcome of Ann Arbor’s LOCC deliberations since 1999. The first column is the scheduled year when the LOCC met (every odd-numbered year): LOCC YEAR. When it meets, the commission decides the recommended salaries for the next two years. In the table, those years appear in the second column: SLRY YEAR. The third column contains the salary for the mayor as decided by the LOCC: REC MAYOR. The LOCC decision automatically takes effect unless the LOCC decision is rejected by the city council. So the dollar figure in the fourth column – which contains the actual mayoral salary for the year, labeled ACTL MAYOR – matches the figure in the third column only when the city council took no action to reject the LOCC decision. The final two columns, for city council salaries, are interpreted in the same fashion.
The first row of the table shows that the LOCC met in 1999 to determine the salaries for 2000. Commissioners decided that $18,300 would be the compensation for the mayor and $9,800 for city councilmembers. The city council took no action to reject those decisions and those amounts were thus the actual salaries.
In four out of the last six years when the LOCC has met, the city council has allowed the LOCC decision on mayoral and council salaries to stand. However, in 2001 and 2005 the LOCC decisions were rejected by the council, leaving the actual compensation the same as it had been previously – lower than the LOCC recommendation.
In 2001, the LOCC determined the council salaries for 2002 and 2003 to be $11,950, which would have given councilmembers a $2,150 – or 22% – raise. Rejection of the LOCC decision by the council left their salaries at $9,800. In 2005, it was a smaller raise that council members decided to forgo. The LOCC recommended council salaries of $15,450 for 2006 and $15,913 for 2007. That year the council rejected the LOCC decision to raise their salaries by 3% each year, leaving their compensation at $15,000. The LOCC decisions in 2001 and 2005 on mayoral salary followed a similar pattern.
DECISIONS OF ANN ARBOR LOCC LOCC SLRY REC ACTL REC ACTL YEAR YEAR MAYOR MAYOR COUNCIL COUNCIL 1999 2000 $18,300 $18,300 $ 9,800 $ 9,800 1999 2001 $18,300 $18,300 $ 9,800 $ 9,800 2001 2002 $22,300 $18,300 $11,950 $ 9,800 2001 2003 $22,300 $18,300 $11,950 $ 9,800 2003 2004 $28,000 $28,000 $12,000 $12,000 2003 2005 $40,000 $40,000 $15,000 $15,000 2005 2006 $41,200 $40,000 $15,450 $15,000 2005 2007 $42,436 $40,000 $15,913 $15,000 2007 2008 $41,200 $41,200 $15,450 $15,450 2007 2009 $42,436 $42,436 $15,913 $15,913 2009 2010 $42,436 $42,436 $15,913 $15,913 2009 2011 $42,436 $42,436 $15,913 $15,913 2011 2012 ?? ?? ?? ?? 2011 2013 ?? ?? ?? ??
Over the last decade, the years when council and mayor salaries rose most significantly were 2004 and 2005, when the mayor’s salary jumped from $18,300 to $28,000 and then to $40,000. Councilmember salaries jumped from $9,800 to $12,000 and then to $15,000. That was the result of a 2003 LOCC decision that set salaries for 2004-05 – a decision that was not rejected by the city council. City council minutes do not reflect a vote on the LOCC decision from 2003 – the council need not vote in order for the LOCC decision to take effect.
The 2007 Council Vote: “Debate Club Theater”
After declining to take any action to reject the 2003 LOCC decision to increase the mayor’s salary by 118% and a councilmember’s salary by 53%, two years later the council did reject smaller, 3% annual increases for 2006 and 2007.
So in 2007, the LOCC delivered the same decision that the council had rejected two years prior – a 3% annual increase for the following two years, 2008 and 2009. The second time around the council didn’t ultimatly reject the decision, but it did vote on a resolution that would have rejected it.
The deliberations unfolded at the Dec. 17, 2007 meeting, when the proposal to reject the LOCC’s decision was separated out into three separate resolutions: one on the mayor, another on the mayor pro tem [which we leave aside here], and a third on councilmembers. The resolution to reject the LOCC decision was introduced by Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and Christopher Easthope, who then was one of two Ward 5 councilmembers. [Briere is still currently on council; Easthope was elected as a 15th District Court judge in 2008.]
The constitution of the city council at that time was: Ronald Suarez (Ward 1), Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Joan Lowenstein (Ward 2), Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Leigh Greden (Ward 3), Margie Teall (Ward 4), Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), Christopher Easthope (Ward 5), Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and John Hieftje (mayor).
The resolutions on the mayor and councilmember salaries ultimately failed on a voice vote, which allowed the LOCC-determined raise to stand. Commentary in a Dec. 23, 2007 editorial published in the Ann Arbor News read as follows:
Quite a kabuki dance ensued as the resolution was discussed and ultimately defeated – meaning that the pay raises will go into effect. Easthope and new Council Members Sabra Briere, D-1st Ward, and Mike Anglin, D-5th Ward, voted to reject the raises for the council – though Anglin supported giving Mayor John Hieftje a raise. (A challenge by Leigh Greden, D-3rd Ward, was pure debate-club theater. Greden proposed that those rejecting the raises give the money to charity – Easthope, Briere and Anglin all agreed to do it.)
[Editor's note: The editorial was drafted by Ann Arbor Chronicle publisher Mary Morgan, who at the time served as opinion editor for the News.]
Then, in the summer of 2009, a request made by Ann Arbor News columnist Judy McGovern under the Freedom of Information Act yielded emails exchanged between councilmembers during that Dec. 17, 2007 meeting. Those emails revealed the talk at the table to have been scripted out. [In the email exchanges, it's clear that the reference point for "passing" and "voting yes" is the idea of the pay raise, not the resolution that would have rejected the LOCC decision.] From McGovern’s July 21, 2009 article:
7:32 p.m. – Leigh Greden to Marcia Higgins: “SK (Stephen Kunselman) is with us on the pay raise.”
7:34 p.m. – Higgins to Greden: “Welll (sic) that’s 5 of us. Anyone else?”
7:37 p.m. – Greden to Higgins: “Higgins, (Margie) Teall, (Stephen) Rapundalo, (Joan) Lowenstein, Greden, Kunselman. I think (Mayor John) Hieftje is with us too. He wants it to pass. I told him I would publicly challenge anyone who votes no (against accepting the additional compensation) to return the pay raise or donate it to a charity. I told him I would publicly follow-up on that challenge in 6 months, so he better vote yes.”
7:38 p.m. – Higgins to Greden: “Joan changed her mind?”
7:39 p.m. – Greden to Higgins: “She said ‘I just don’t want to be the only one.’ I told her we have a majority, so she said she’d vote with us.”
As the question reached the floor, Greden e-mailed Easthope.
8:28 p.m. – Subject “wait”
“I’m going to see what people say about the pay raise. I will challenge in a minute.”
8:29 p.m. – Easthope to Greden: “Make sure, that’s our deal for keeping my mouth shut. I told John I wouldn’t ask for a roll call vote.”
8:29 p.m. – Greden to Easthope: “Deal. I need to let the others speak first.”
For its part, the LOCC was content that the council had not rejected its recommendation. Writing on behalf of the LOCC in an Ann Arbor News op-ed piece, Martha Darling and William Lockwood said:
We are most pleased that the council has accepted our recommendation for a 3 percent raise in each of the next two years for itself and for the mayor. [Ann Arbor News, Dec. 30, 2007]
2003 LOCC Decision: Rationale
While the actual decision to increase mayoral and councilmember salaries significantly came in 2003, the rationale for the change was also reflected publicly in the 2007 op-ed piece written by Darling and Lockwood and published in The Ann Arbor News [.pdf of complete text of Darling and Lockwood's op-ed]:
… the council hires a professional administrator to run the city government while the citizens elect the mayor to provide public leadership for the entire city. What may have initially begun as a part-time position with significant ceremonial duties has over the years expanded to incorporate opportunities for substantive leadership on a variety of complex issues affecting the city’s quality of life. Among these are environmental stewardship, regional transportation, housing and urban design. That leadership is exercised in a variety of local, state and national forums.
It is arguable that leadership responsibilities at this level require much more than “part-time” attention. In fact, it may not be possible to carry out such responsibilities well and still hold an outside job adequate to pay the bills. …
However, at some point, maybe even now, the high time demands and low salary levels of these [city council] positions may present too high an economic barrier to many individuals interested in serving the community. The need to support a family usually requires a full-time job, often two full-time workers, leaving very little time for community involvement. The residents of Ann Arbor lose when less than everyone is engaged. [Ann Arbor News, Dec. 30, 2007]
Written by former councilmember Mike Reid as a reply to the Lockwood and Darling piece, an op-ed published by the News in early 2008 offered a different view [.pdf of complete text of Reid's op-ed]:
In my view, the logic behind this argument is buttressed by two equally questionable assumptions. First, that higher salary is a necessary requirement to entice qualified individuals into seeking office, and second, that the complexity of the job and the magnitude of the city budget warrants movement towards establishing a professional class of local politicians. I respectfully disagree on both counts. …
We need look no further than our Board of Education, Washtenaw Community College trustees, library board or the University of Michigan Board of Regents to appreciate that individuals from many professional, cultural and economic walks of life willingly step forward in service to the community with little to no compensation. …
Our city charter specifies a strong administrator/weak mayor form of government. This means the city administrator serves as the de facto chief executive while the mayor and council members are charged with three principal responsibilities: 1) hire the city administrator, 2) hire the city attorney, and 3) approve a balanced annual budget. Everything else is optional. [Ann Arbor News, Jan. 18, 2008]
2003 LOCC Decision: Deliberations
What were the actual LOCC deliberations like in 2003? They were marked by appeals from then-current councilmembers for higher salaries. [.pdf of all LOCC meeting minutes and determinations from 1999-2009]
The LOCC met on Dec.18 and 23 of that year to determine mayoral and city council compensation for 2004 and 2005. For 2004, the LOCC recommended an increase in compensation for both mayor and councilmembers that Mike Reid in his subsequent op-ed piece characterized as “massive pay hikes” – the mayoral salary increased to $28,000 from $18,300 and a city council salary rose to $12,000 from $9,800. The recommended amounts were increased even more for 2005 – a mayoral salary of $40,000 and a city council salary of $15,000.
According to the official determination submitted by the LOCC in 2003, the following factors were considered during the deliberations:
- Nature of public service
- History of salary increases for mayor and city councilmembers
- Existing salary information for members of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners
- Average salaries for persons in the State of Michigan serving in similar positions with the same form of government
- Financial sacrifices incurred by elected officials
- Public comment and historical written comments from past and current members of the city council on the nature of their duties and the extensive number of hours per week devoted to city government
- Community expectations
In 2001, the LOCC had already recommended an increase in salaries, though its decision was rejected by the city council. In 2003, Christopher Easthope, then the mayor pro tem, attended a Dec. 18 LOCC meeting, and explained that one chief reason for the 2001 rejection was the “political climate” of the time. From the meeting minutes:
The Commission also inquired as to why Mr. Easthope believed the decision on the 2001 Commission was rejected. Mr. Easthope indicated the political climate at the time was decisive in Council’s decision. He also indicated that he felt the same climate did not currently exist.
At the subsequent Dec. 23, 2003 meeting, no one appeared during public comment to address the LOCC as Easthope had five days before. However, the meeting minutes indicate that councilmember Leigh Greden submitted a written memo. [.pdf of all memos collected by LOCC for 2001-2003]. In the memo, Greden argued for higher mayoral and councilmember salaries:
It is imperative that our elected officials have the experience in finance, law, and/or community development required to lead a city of our size and prestige. Unfortunately, service on City Council demands significant time, which makes it difficult for people with these skills to serve as on Council while maintaining full-time jobs. Indeed, I plan to begin a reduced work schedule beginning January 1, 2003 – which also means a reduced salary so I can devote the time needed to my City Council activities. There is a consensus throughout this community that our elected officials are underpaid.
2003 Decision: Previous Session’s Data
The issue of time commitment from elected officers had been discussed by the LOCC in 2001 when it circulated a two-question survey to several several community leaders. Responses came from Susan J. Greenberg (Democratic Party chair), Marlene A. Chockley (Republican Party chair), as well as then councilmembers Jean Carlberg, Wendy Woods, Heidi Herrell, Marcia Higgins, and Stephen Hartwell. Written comment was also received from Christopher Kolb, who had left the city council the previous month because he’d been elected to serve as the state representative for District 53, and Pat Dixon, whose service on the city council went through November 1999.
The survey questions:
- Did compensation play a direct or indirect role in your determination to run for office? In continuing in office after elected?
- How many hours per week do you devote to carrying out the duties of your office? Breakdown if possible.
For the first question, office-holders and former office-holders generally indicated that time was more of a factor than the compensation. [.pdf of all memos collected by LOCC for 2001-2003] Typical was this from Pat Dixon:
One of the reasons I decided not to run for city council [again] was the time. The lack of good compensation was a consideration but their [sic] are higher goals in life. I’m used to financial struggle but it didn’t help that it actually cost me. … I was up every night to two or three in the morning answering email. Physically I began to deteriorate.
Similar sentiments came from Heidi Herrell:
The compensation did not play a role in my decision to run for council the first time. The time involved was underrepresented to me, so I didn’t know what I was getting into! Also, I have found that the longer I have been on council, the more time it takes.
Several of the respondents indicated they felt that the job of mayor of Ann Arbor is a full-time job. Again from Herrell:
Even if the Council members compensation is not increased to market rates, The Mayor’s compensation should be. The Mayor of Ann Arbor is a FULL TIME JOB. It is virtually impossible to have another job at the same time, and $18,300.00 IS NOT ENOUGH TO LIVE ON.
Those who responded to the time breakdown used a variety of different categories. Councilmembers documented a range of time commitments across categories for actual meetings/work sessions, committee meetings, meeting preparation and constituent engagement that averaged between 25-30 hours a week. To illustrate, here’s how Jean Carlberg broke down 32 hours per week:
Council meetings, work sessions, caucus meetings and preparation: 5 hours/week (minimum) Boards and committee meetings: 11 hours/week Community activities: 6 hours/week Citizen contacts: 4 hours/week Preparation/Research: 6 hours/week
TOTAL: 32 hours/week
In his response to the LOCC, Kolb indicated: “A light week is at least twenty hours, up to 60+ hours the more leadership you put into City Council.”
Some of the data provided to the LOCC dealt not with time commitments, but rather with comparisons to compensation in other municipalities. For example, Heidi Herrell mentions that Livonia’s mayor is paid $89,500. And Leigh Greden’s memo includes the following table, which he contended showed that Ann Arbor’s elected officials are undercompensated – numbers in the righthand column indicate population size:
Warren, MI $25,999 + benefits (council) 137,672 Livonia, MI $14,400 (council) 100,545 Westland, MI $11,796 (council) l86,602 Southfield, MI $15,600 (council) 77,859 Hamtramck, MI $12,000 (council) 22,976 Utica, MI $24,700 (mayor) 4,577
At that time, Ann Arbor’s mayor was paid $18,300 and councilmembers were paid $9,800 per year.
Council/Mayoral Roles in the Council-Manager Form
It is acknowledged in the minutes of LOCC deliberations over the last decade that Ann Arbor’s local government is a council-manager form. That means the council hires a professionally-trained city administrator to run the city. This contrasts with the strong mayor form, where there is no city administrator, and the city’s operations are instead handled by the mayor. This is a point stressed throughout Kirk Westphal’s film,“The Council-Manager Form of Local Government.”
The $89,500 paid to Livonia’s mayor in 2001 – adduced by Herrell in arguing for a higher salary for Ann Arbor’s mayor – should be understood in the context of Livonia’s strong mayor system. Likewise, the $24,700 paid to Utica’s mayor – adduced by Greden in arguing for a higher mayoral salary – should be understood in the context of Utica’s strong mayor system. In Utica and Livonia, the mayor’s job responsibility includes considerably more than does Ann Arbor’s.
The most obvious difference between the two systems of government – strong mayor versus council-manager – is defined in terms of the existence or absence of a city administrator and the impact that has on mayoral responsibility. But what about the role of city councilmembers in a strong mayor system, compared to a council-manager system?
Three of the five cities used by Greden to argue for higher council salaries are strong-mayor cities: Warren, Livonia and Westland.
Does it make sense to compare councilmember salaries in a strong mayor city with those in a council-manager city, when a local officers compensation commission evaluates appropriate salary levels?
In a council-manager system, the council must supervise the city administrator – a responsibility that is absent in a strong mayor system. From that point of view, the job of a city councilmember in a council-manager form might be seen as more demanding.
On the other hand, in a strong mayor system, the council performs a check on mayoral executive power that it does not perform in a council-manager system. And the importance of that check might be more or less important, depending on the qualifications of the mayor actually managing day-to-day operations of a city. Whereas city administrators are hired by a council precisely for their professionally demonstrated qualifications to run a city, a strong mayor is “hired” by voters for any number of reasons, which might not include an ability to manage a city effectively. That means the work of providing a check could be significant. From that point of view, the job of a city councilmember in a strong mayor system might be seen as more demanding.
In a phone interview with The Chronicle, Joe Ohren – a professor of political science at Eastern Michigan University who’s featured in Westphal’s film – acknowledged the reasonableness of both points of view about the burden of a city councilmember in a strong mayor versus a council-manager form. He added an additional perspective on the role of a city council in today’s world. More now than previously, he said, the role of a city councilmember is expected to be more active is soliciting citizen participation and in helping citizens understand what policy options are available and in making clear what the rationale is for policies that are adopted. “You have to be teachers,” he concluded.
Jered Carr, a professor of public administration and public policy at Wayne State University who’s also featured in Westphal’s film, told The Chronicle that in either form of government, a significant factor in the work load of councilmembers is how much fiscal stress there is. In Michigan, he pointed out, there’s been fiscal stress for quite some time.
Other Factors in Setting Compensation
Historically, consideration of salaries for elected officials by Ann Arbor’s LOCC has been viewed not just in terms of what amount the office of mayor and councilmember deserve to be paid.
Other Factors: Fiscal Impact
Compensation has also been evaluated in terms of fiscal impact. Otherwise put, how much does it cost the community to pay our set of elected officials to do their work? From the 2003 LOCC determination:
Fiscal Impact of 2003 LOCC Determinations
The total cost in increased salary payments will be $150,000 in year 2004 and $193,000 in year 2005. The 2003 LOCC determinations represent .001 of the Ann Arbor City approximate $235,000,000 budget for FY 2003-2004. It will be necessary to appropriate funding for the salary increases. The total salary paid to elected officials of Ann Arbor costs each resident approximately $1.32 in year 2004 and $1.69 in year 2005 per resident per year.
From meeting minutes, it’s not clear if the fiscal impact has been analyzed comparatively across communities by the LOCC. For that comparison, it’s necessary to contemplate how many councilmembers serve on a given city’s council. Whereas Ann Arbor’s city council includes 10 members plus the mayor, three of the city’s on Greden’s list have only seven members on their councils. For Southfield, the $109,200 total cost of the seven-member council in 2003, at $15,600 per member, compared to a total cost of $98,000 for Ann Arbor’s 10-member council that year. That still represents an 11.5% difference, before factoring in Southfield’s somewhat smaller population and budget.
Other Factors: Comparison to Wage Standards
Ann Arbor’s LOCC has also contemplated how local officials’ compensation stacks up against the city’s living wage standard. From the 2001 set of LOCC meeting minutes:
Discussion focused the use of the previous method of calculation, CPI Index-based, versus the use of an established living wage multiplied by a weekly average of hours of service. To further discussion, the living wage method was calculated using an average of 25 hrs of service which resulted in a proposed increase in salaries for the Council Members of $13,500 and $25,200 for the Mayor.
In 2001, the city council enacted a living wage ordinance, which required contractors with the city to pay a living wage to its workers. The initial levels set by the ordinance were $8.70 for contractors who also offered health benefits and $10.20 per hour for those who do not.
The CPI escalator used by the city to increase its living wage has now increased the hourly rate to $13.06 for employers not offering health care benefits. [City councilmembers and the mayor do not receive health care benefits. But the council itself has the power to enact benefits for itself, based on a 1978 state attorney general Opinion No. 5255.]
If a living wage rate is assumed, then at current salary levels, councilmembers are expected to work 15,913/13.06/52 = 23 hours per week. And assuming the living wage rate, the mayoral salary would translate into 42,436/13.06/52 = 62.5 hours per week.
Using the current federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour, a councilmember earns a bit more than a minimum-wage worker who puts in 40 hours a week. [7.25*40*52 = $15,080 compared to a councilmember's $15,903]
Options Besides Adjusting Compensation
The only issue in the purview of a local officers compensation commission is the setting of salary. It is not up to the commission to redefine the responsibilities of the council and mayor. So partly in response to the volume of work that councilmembers reported doing in the early 2000s, Ann Arbor’s LOCC adjusted salaries upward. The definition of the job of councilmember and mayor in Ann Arbor did not change with the salary adjustment, but the salary increase could be seen as confirmation that the amount of time being spent by the mayor and councilmembers was appropriate to the actual job definition.
In the early 2000s, mayor John Logie of Grand Rapids took a slightly different approach. He was putting a large amount of time into the part-time job of mayor, which was then paid $35,000. He argued that the job of mayor should be made full-time. The Calvin College newspaper “Chimes” reported it this way:
Logie, an attorney at Warner, Norcross and Judd law firm when not acting as Grand Rapids’ Mayor at City Hall, is concerned that people may vie for the $35,000-a-year part-time position because (1) it’s more money than they have been making, or, at the other end (2) they are independently wealthy, at or near retirement age and living off a pension. [Chimes, Feb. 15, 2002]
Any increase in salary for a full-time position, however, was implicit. Logie’s actual proposal was not to increase the salary, but rather to equip the mayor’s position with more power, including a power to veto a vote of the council, plus the power to hire the city manager, the city attorney, the clerk, and the treasurer.
It would have created a kind of hybrid council-manager/strong mayor system. Ann Arbor already has somewhat of a hybrid system, because the mayor enjoys a power of veto, though the current mayor, John Hieftje, has never used it in more than a decade of service. Ann Arbor’s clerk and treasurer are hired by the city administrator. The Ann Arbor city council hires the city attorney and the city administrator.
To change mayoral responsibility would require a charter amendment, which requires the matter to be put before the voters.
Later in 2002, Logie announced that he would not stand for re-election the following year, to help convince councilmembers to place the full-time mayor proposal on the ballot, and to ensure that voters were not deciding the question of whether he personally should become a full-time mayor. Grand Rapids voters wound up rejecting the proposal to change the city charter to redefine mayoral responsibility, and George Heartwell was elected mayor.
Sometime during 2011 it’s likely that the two vacancies on Ann Arbor’s local officers compensation commission will be filled. And when the year’s session schedule is announced, The Chronicle will add the LOCC’s sessions to its meeting coverage.
About the writers: Dave Askins is editor and co-founder of The Ann Arbor Chronicle. Hayley Byrnes is a Chronicle intern.