Why Charlotte’s mayor and city council could get a big pay bump

Why Charlotte’s mayor and city council could get a big pay bump

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

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Mayor Vi Lyles and the 11 members of city council could see their pay increase substantially under the proposed budget for fiscal year 2022.

Why it matters: The city’s top leaders are already low paid. Raising their pay — at least to a level similar to what Mecklenburg County Commissioners make — could help with recruiting candidates.

  • Plus, it’s an equity issue: People in low- to middle-income jobs have a hard time holding public office while working full-time.

Flashback: “The salary structure as it stands right now, for city council members and policymakers, only makes sense for people to do this if they already have accumulated wealth or if you don’t have a family to support,” city councilman Braxton Winston said in May 2019, as WFAE reported. At the time, city council rejected Winston’s push to increase their pay.

By the numbers: The budget proposes a salary of $39,646 for Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles, up 41.5% from her current $28,012. Including expenses (like car and technology), her total compensation would be $59,868, up 30.4% from what she gets now.

  • For city council members, salaries would increase to $32,638, up 50.7% from their current $21,646. Total compensation including expenses would be $52,444, up 51.8%.

City manager Marcus Jones said in January he wanted to incorporate pay raises for city leaders into the budget process. His comments came two months after a report by the Citizen Advisory Committee on Governance found that Lyles was the third lowest paid mayor among 20 peer cities.

  • City council members also make less than a majority of peer cities, according to the committee, which city leaders commissioned to examine the structure of city council.

What they’re saying: “Almost everyone except retirees give up financial opportunity in order to do this job, which is fine but for some people who would like to serve, it’s becoming more and more of a hindrance,” mayor pro tem Julie Eiselt tells me.

  • The pay should keep pace with the demands of a full-time job, Eiselt adds. City council and mayor are not technically full-time positions, though the job often requires full-time work.

Go deeper: Charlotte has what’s known as a “weak mayor” form of government, which means the city manager (Jones) runs the city like a CEO (and makes $379,586 a year). The city council and the mayor set policy, and the manager carries it out day-to-day. The mayor only votes in the event of a tie among council.

Yes, but: Pay increases are bound to draw opposition, as UNC Charlotte political scientist Eric Heberlig told the Charlotte Observer. “When salaries are low to begin with, any increase is going to look huge. That’s really part of the political danger to the city council members,” Heberlig told the paper.

  • Mitch Kokai, a senior political analyst at the right-leaning John Locke Foundation, told Fox 46 the pay raises are a “red flag” in part because there’s no election between when council votes on them and when they’d take effect (July).
  • Jones did not mention the pay increases during his budget presentation last week. [Read more]

My thought bubble: Raising pay for city leaders could help reduce instances of conflicts of interest, should council members make enough to not need other full-time jobs.

What’s next: There’s a public hearing on the proposed $2.7 billion budget Monday night at 5. You can sign up online to speak by 9am Monday, or by calling the City Clerk’s Office at 704-336-2248.

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