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The City Journals

Elected official’s salary may be a committee decision after Mayor’s raise denial

Aug 30, 2018 12:54PM ● By Jana Klopsch

Mayor Cherie Wood speaks with a resident during an open house in March 2017 regarding the placement of the homeless resource centers. Wood was recently denied a pay raise by the city council. (Travis Barton/City Journals)

By Holly Vasic | [email protected]

At the July 25 South Salt Lake council meeting, the council members voted 4-3 to deny SSL Mayor Cherie Wood a pay raise. Some council members cited city stormwater drain taxes as their reason for denying the raise although others wondered if the mayor’s gender was a factor in certain council member’s decision to vote against the increase. In the end, the council members and the mayor discussed changes on how to settle salaries in a more productive way in the future.

Council member for District 3, Sharla Bynum, sees a pattern in the way some of the current council votes and how past members have also voted when it comes to the mayor. After the decision was made, Bynum questioned the motivation of council member’s Shane Siwik, Mark Kindred, Ben Pender, and Corey Thomas, who all voted to deny the raise.

“You know, I saw this happen back in 2014 and, I’m not making any accusations, but sometimes I wonder if it’s a female mayor, sometimes, because it was a boy’s club back then that just did it and that didn’t even bring it to the table.”

Bynum was interrupted by Siwik and Pender stating, “That is inappropriate” and saying they took offense.

“I can’t help but wonder because it’s happened twice,” Bynum said.

Thomas and Kindred pointed out that Thomas is a female and voted against the raise as well. After the meeting closed Siwik requested Bynum not call him “a sexist” or “a bigot.”

At the next council meeting following the decision, on August 8, Bynum apologized for her comments, saying, “I feel like I owe some of my colleagues up here a bit of an apology. At the end of last meeting I made a comment, and when I made that comment I was thinking somewhat historically and philosophically. It wasn’t meant to be any kind of a personal accusation.”

Siwik was ready to move on. “It’s water under the bridge,” he said. “To me it’s just forgotten.” 

South Salt Lake government requires that pay adjustments for elected officials be a city council decision and considering the approval in the budget for a new city council assistant and the pay raise for the city council chair, Ben Pender, due to the extra role he is taking on, Wood thought it would be an appropriate time to ask for a pay raise, especially considering she has not had one since 2011.

“I followed the process that was in place, I never heard them say they weren’t considering it for elected officials,” Wood said. “This is my full-time job, and I work 40-plus hours a week and then I attend every meeting that the council attends, as their part-time job.”

Siwik recalled during springtime budget discussions the council had decided not to give raises to elected officials. He was taken off guard when the pay raises for city council and mayor were on the agenda. “The administration, for whatever reason, assumed we were OK with giving ourselves a raise and they put it on that agenda,” Siwik said. “We thought that we had already excluded ourselves as an increase.” The council did vote unanimously not to give themselves a raise.

Pender confirmed that he does receive more in the role as council chair and anybody in that role would. “The idea came from a conversation we had with the mayor previously,” Pender said.

During the homeless resource center discussions last year, Pender was meeting with the mayor, attending other meetings regarding the center, which required him to step away from his daytime employment, on top of the regular council member duties. The council voted on it and decided to give the council chair a raise. Pender personally believed the mayor should not receive a raise, after denying his own with the rest of the council, due to the stormwater utility fee that may be implemented.

“I have a hard time taking a raise then turn around and ask the citizens to pay a utility fee, or tax, whatever you want to call it,” Pender said. The tax would be about $48 a year per resident and businesses would have an amount to pay based on square footage. The open house, public hearing and stormwater ordinance consideration will take place on Sept. 5 at City Hall beginning at 6 p.m. Council member at-large Ray deWolfe said there is always a reason not to give a raise, and the stormwater utility fee was not a valid reason for him.

Another reason for the denial, according to Pender, is taking into consideration the mayor’s salary plus benefits, such as the city vehicles she drives and the cellphone she uses. Wood had argued that she has responsibilities other city mayors do not have. “A lot of our forms of government also have a city CEO, but I do both roles,” Wood said. “I don’t have somebody running the daily operations of the 350 employees that run South Salt Lake.”

At the Aug. 8 RDA meeting, council member at-large Mark Kindred discussed a possible more productive way to address elected official’s salary, looking at other cities for solutions. “I just think there needs to be a more fair process put into place, and I think Provo might be on to something by having the committee review,” Kindred said.

Pender described the process as three people would be selected by the council and three by that mayor, during election year, then those six would select a seventh. This committee would do a payroll study before returning to the mayor and council for a vote.

“I think the majority of the council liked that,” Pender said. “I think we came up with a good compromise. It doesn’t have to blow up like it did that particular council meeting.”

Siwik likes the option but said maybe it isn’t the perfect solution. “There are some details we need to hash out over it,” Siwik said.

Bynum is positive about the future as well.

“I do feel like some good conversation has happened, and I wanted to thank councilman Kindred,” Bynum said. “I think that that’s a good direction.”