Editor’s note: A Jan. 14, 2011 Ann Arbor Chronicle article on mayoral and councilmember compensation concluded with the following: “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.”
During the course of 2011, mayor John Hieftje did not appoint anyone to fill the two vacancies. And since that time, a third vacancy has been added. However in this report, The Chronicle makes good on its promise to cover the commission’s only meeting this year.
Ann Arbor local officers compensation commission (Dec. 16, 2011): Salaries for Ann Arbor’s mayor and 10 city councilmembers will remain constant for the next two years at $42,436 and $15,913, respectively. That was the conclusion of the four members on the local officers compensation commission (LOCC), who met Friday morning for around a half hour.
Commission members cited the down economy as a main reason for not bumping the salaries higher. They discussed the fact that a flat salary, even with little inflation, translates into a pay cut – which was also a possibility they briefly mentioned.
The seven-member body currently has just four members, because no appointments have been made by the mayor to fill vacancies. Attending the meeting were Martha Darling, William Lockwood, Roger Hewitt and Eunice Burns. Hewitt chaired the commission two years ago when it last met, and he was again drafted by his commission colleagues to serve as chair this year.
The LOCC is required to meet in odd-numbered years, so this year is a required meeting year. The LOCC makes a recommendation to the city council – a decision that automatically takes effect unless the city council votes to reject it. The council does not need to take affirmative action to approve the LOCC recommendation.
2011 Commission Deliberations
After the roll call and approval of the agenda, the first order of business on the Dec. 16 agenda was the selection of a chair.
2011 Commission Deliberations: Selection of Chair
Until that point, Roger Hewitt, the chair held over from the commission’s 2009 session, had presided over the meeting. Hewitt was nominated again to serve as the chair, with Bill Lockwood saying, “It’s a fine nomination!” For his part, Hewitt displayed little enthusiasm for the role, asking: “Don’t the members think it might be good to rotate?” They did not, and Hewitt accepted the chore his commission colleagues assigned to him.
Responding to the suggestion that Hewitt could record his chairship on his resumé, Hewitt quipped that very few people his age are polishing up resumés. But he then allowed that in the currently down economy, there might be more people his age doing that than in the past.
The down economy factored into commissioners’ thinking when they eventually recommended that salaries for councilmembers and the mayor remain the same.
2011 Commission Deliberations: Timeframe; Information Packet
As they began to consider their task, commissioners observed that they needed to complete their work not later than Dec. 31. After establishing Dec. 19 as a possible additional meeting date – if they did not arrive at a consensus during the current meeting – Hewitt encouraged his colleagues: “Let’s see if we can complete our work.”
Assistant city attorney Mary Fales, who provides staff support for the commission, reviewed the information in the packet that she’d compiled for the commission’s review. The list of comparable cities in the packet consisted of Lansing, Livonia, Southfield, Sterling Heights, Westland, Taylor and Dearborn.
Fales advised that the salary information for all seven cities was not included, because the database from which she drew the information – from the Michigan Municipal League (MML) – was based on voluntary submission of data by league member cities. Data from Southfield, Lansing, and Taylor were missing from the list. [.pdf of charts from MML database provided to the commission]
The commission did not discuss how the comparable cities were chosen or the fact that just two of the seven comparables have council-manager forms of government like Ann Arbor’s – Southfield and Sterling Heights. [The other five have "strong mayor" forms – in which the mayor manages the city day-to-day. In a council-manager form of government, the city council hires a city administrator to oversee day-to-day operations for the city.]
Sterling Heights (with a population slightly larger than Ann Arbor, at around 124,000) is the one council-manager city for which comparable salary data was provided to the commission. Sterling Heights’ mayor earns $19,754, compared to $42,436 for Ann Arbor. Other cities on the comparables list (with strong mayor forms of government) showed correspondingly higher salaries for the position of mayor. For example, Livonia’s mayor is paid $105,000 annually, and Dearborn’s mayor is paid $131,133.
Information in the packet also included compensation for Ann Arbor District Library board of trustees ($30 per meeting), Ann Arbor Public Schools board of trustees ($130/month) and Washtenaw County board of commissioners ($15,500 annual salary and $25/meeting per diem).
The packet prepared by Fales also included community profiles for the seven cities downloaded from the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) website: Ann Arbor; Livonia; Southfield; Sterling Heights; Westland; Taylor; and Dearborn.
Fales also provided the determination from the last LOCC session for reference. The determination in 2009 was to keep salaries constant.
Commission Deliberations: Lower, Higher, Flat?
Bill Lockwood led off deliberations by saying he thought it’s highly unlikely that there could be a salary increase in the current circumstance. The only issue, he felt, is whether councilmembers and the mayor should share in the pain by taking a decrease, “like other folks are taking.” He asked if city staff were taking a reduction or whether the city is simply losing people. Responding to Lockwood’s question, Martha Darling ventured that the reduction in compensation experienced by city staff have been mostly on the benefits side.
Roger Hewitt observed that the LOCC deals only with salary. Hewitt wanted to know if there’d been any increase in city employee wages in the last year or two. Fales indicated that for non-union employees, there had been no increases. She also left the room briefly to confirm with the city’s labor attorney that union employees, in all the recently settled contracts, had not received any wage increases beyond the “step increases” that have historically been a part of those contracts.
Darling pointed out that in Ann Arbor’s salary history, Fales had included a footnote indicating that the mayor and some councilmembers voluntarily “gave back” 3% of their salary one year. Lockwood observed that the 3% figure came from the 3% increase that the LOCC had recommended in 2007, which councilmembers did not reject.
By way of background, not all councilmembers who made the public announcement in early 2010 that they’d give back 3% of their salaries followed through – until The Chronicle inquired about the status of promised give-back payments. From an April 29, 2011 Chronicle column:
On Feb. 22, 2011 – more than a year after the public promises were made – The Chronicle inquired with the city’s financial office about the status of those payments. Not all had paid. But by March 7, 2011, all those who said they’d participate had finally made good on their commitment – it took The Chronicle’s inquiry to get them to follow through. According to city staff, it had been the expectation of some councilmembers that they would be invoiced with an incremental payment plan. And apparently when they didn’t receive an invoice from the city, they didn’t have the discipline to make the payments on their own.
Responding to the mention of the voluntary give-back, Hewitt noted that the council would have its own political discussion. He said he’d suggest a nominal cost-of-living increase or keeping it flat. He indicated he didn’t believe it was possible to increase salaries substantially. Lockwood noted that inflation, though relatively low recently, did the work of reducing wages, if they left salaries flat.
Returning to the issue of the lack of any increase for city employee salaries, commissioners also noted that staff reductions meant that the same amount of work was getting done with fewer people. As the mood in the room seemed to verge on entertaining a recommendation to reduce mayoral and councilmember salaries, Hewitt ventured that the LOCC could not actually make such a recommendation. Responding to Hewitt, Fales indicated that recommending a salary reduction is within the purview of the LOCC.
Lockwood said that even though Fales was recording the minutes for the meeting, he wanted her to include how wonderful the information packet was. Fales is to be complimented for that, he said.
Returning to the issue of salary, Lockwood said he couldn’t see any possibility that he’d vote for an increase. He then moved that the recommendation of the commission be to continue the current salaries for the mayor and councilmembers at $42,436 and $15,913, respectively, for the next two years.
Eunice Burns suggested using the same paragraph from the 2009 session’s determination:
The LOCC has determined that no increase in salary is appropriate for the mayor, mayor pro tem, and members of the city council. The salary determination for local elected officials is responsive to the present economic climate and is not reflective of the time, energy and leadership roles that the mayor and members of city council have and continue to participate in regional and state levels.
Picking up on the “leadership roles” phrase in the paragraph, Darling noted that leadership on transit and establishing a rail corridor had reflected real progress, which is befitting one of the few counties in Michigan that is doing arguable better than the rest of the state. Darling said the council and mayor are really doing important work within a constrained budget situation. Lockwood commented that it’s sad that “we are where we are.” Darling ventured that increasing salaries would not be possible until there’s a broader economic recovery.
Burns related the feedback that she’d received from a party she’d attended the previous night. When she floated the idea of raises to other attendees, she reported, everyone said: No! Burns added those she had asked were all good Democrats.
Lockwood said he hoped that the next time the LOCC meets, in 2013, commissioners would be looking at an economy that’s starting to blossom. Hewitt commented that comparing what mayors make in other Michigan cities, Ann Arbor can’t compensate what’s appropriate. The economic reality is, Hewitt said, “standing still means you’re taking a pay cut.” Darling noted that people aren’t taking on the job of mayor and councilmembers for the money. She said it’s fortunate that the city has people of high quality taking on the work.
Hewitt ventured that the wage per hour wouldn’t be very high. Darling came back to the suggestion from Burns that they use similar language to the 2009 determination, because it again captured the right sentiment. About our elected officials, Darling suggested that, “In our regular lives when we run into them, we should thank them.”
Outcome: The commission voted unanimously to recommend that salaries for the Ann Arbor mayor and councilmembers stay at current levels for 2012 and 2013.
After offering an opportunity for public commentary (no one other than The Chronicle attended) Hewitt accepted a motion to adjourn, the commission voted to end its meeting, and with that the commission’s work was done for another two years.
LOCC Membership: “If no one knows, no one will apply.”
Before the meeting was convened, as the commissioners were waiting for their full complement to arrive, they reflected on the fact that three vacancies exist on the seven-member body.
Mary Fales reported that there are not even three applications on file. She indicated that she’d informed the city clerk of the vacancies. But Bill Lockwood indicated that he’d been looking for vacancy listings for a different body and had not seen any vacancies listed for the LOCC.
By way of background, the city’s online Legistar system that organizes meetings of boards and commissions includes a module for the current and past membership of boards and commissions. The module is sometimes not immediately updated. The currently listed vacancies do not include the three for the LOCC.
About the lack of applications, Eunice Burns said: “If no one knows, no one will apply.”
One hurdle to recruiting members of the commission is that eligibility for service on the LOCC is constrained more than for some other citizen boards and commissions. From Ann Arbor’s ordinance:
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.
In the time since The Chronicle reported on the local officers compensation commission in early 2011, the third vacancy that has accumulated on the LOCC is the spot left by local attorney Fred McDonald, whose term expired on Nov. 21, 2011. His son, Kevin, is employed by the city as an assistant city attorney, and he thus appears to have been ineligible to serve on the LOCC. [See "Ann Arbor City Council Service: What's It Worth?"]
Current member Roger Hewitt also serves on the board of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. And Lockwood serves on the city’s board of canvassers. [.pdf of membership on all Ann Arbor city boards and commissions]
In January 2011, responding to a question from The Chronicle about his view of the status of the DDA and the board of canvassers as a part of the local government in the context of the LOCC eligibility requirement, city attorney Stephen Postema wrote in an email: ”… I would have to research the issue more closely to give a definitive answer.”
Present: Martha Darling, William Lockwood, Roger Hewitt and Eunice Burns.
Next meeting: Sometime in 2013.