Charlotte pays its mayor much less than most other major cities. And that suits us just fine.
The American City Business Journals chain published an analysis this week of how much the mayors are paid in 60 cities across the country. Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts came in at No. 52, with a salary of up to $44,000. (This includes things like a $3,100 annual technology allowance, which Roberts does not currently receive).
New York, LA and Chicago’s top executives all make six figures, as you might guess. Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed makes $185,000. Seattle, a city slightly smaller than Charlotte, pays mayor Ed Murray $175,000.
The main difference between those cities and ours, of course, is in the scope of the job.
Cities paying top dollar to their leaders have “strong mayor” systems, where the mayor actually runs City Hall. He or she is in charge of all the different departments — water, planning, etc. — and makes the day-to-day decisions in operating city government.
Charlotte, on the other hand, has a “weak mayor” form of government.
The city is run by a professional city manager, currently Marcus Jones. The city council and the mayor set policy, and the manager is responsible for carrying it out day-to-day. Roberts doesn’t even have a vote except in the case of a tie among the council — though she does have veto power.
Yes, most big cities have strong mayors, and Charlotte is always desperate to seem like a big city.
The argument in favor of the strong mayor typically falls along these lines: A strong mayor can be more nimble and responsive to voters.
But Charlotte has long had a reputation for clean, effective government, and this weak mayor system is an important reason why. The glaring exception: former Mayor Patrick Cannon, who was arrested and resigned after getting caught up in an FBI investigation.
Opponents of the weak mayor system like to brush aside the concerns about the risk of corruption — but it’s real.
There’s also the danger of injecting partisan politics even farther into the workings of government.
So why not cut Charlotte’s mayoral salary even further?
Fort Worth — which by population is one rung higher than Charlotte — pays mayor Betsy Price $29,000. Raleigh mayor Nancy McFarlane makes only $20,000. Should Charlotte’s pay fall more in line with theirs?
I say no.
Charlotte’s mayor is most effective as a part-time position, with the understanding that it occasionally will take full-time hours.
Roberts and her predecessors have been highly visible in the community and ambassadors for the city. They’re at community events, lobbying state government and recruiting business. They deserve a decent wage, and $44,000 seems fair.