BI council set to get huge raises

The Bainbridge Island mayor would get a raise from $1,250 to $4,000 a month. City Councilmembers would each get a raise from $1,000 to $3,000 a month.

That’s a total of $264,000 a year.

That’s what the city’s salary commission has recommended, but Deputy Mayor Kirsten Hytopoulos said at Tuesday night’s council meeting that some in the community are “not happy with those numbers.”

She said citizens against the raises can file a referendum. But it needs to be done 30 days after the salary announcement, which was made April 19. “I know some people in the community are looking into this,” she said.

Hytopoulos said those raises would put BI higher than cities like Bellevue and Tacoma. “I don’t think our city can afford this,” she said.

The deputy mayor said the public is going to wonder how the city can afford it, with issues like affordable housing still not being addressed as much as constituents want. “We need to look for options on how to undo this,” she said, adding city attorney Joe Levan could look into legal options.

But others on the council weren’t supportive.

Mayor Rasham Nassar said the council is not supposed to be involved with setting its salaries. It’s up to the independent salary commission.

Levan agreed; that’s what the code says. “You don’t have a direct say over what your compensation is going to be,” he said, adding the salary commission is supposed to meet every seven years to decide.

Councilmember Michael Pollock added: “The point of the commission is to keep us out of it. It’s supposed to take the politics out of it. It looks like we put it back in.”

Councilmember Christy Carr said the salary commission was set up to make this decision. “Six people spent a lot of time on this, and we’re washing that all away.”

Councilmember Brenda Fantroy-Johnson said the council should stay out of it, and let the process of a possible referendum take its course. “Everything else is out of our purview,” she said, adding there’s a process to be followed, “and we should not try to circumvent it.”

While waiting to see if a referendum would be filed, the council decided they want to talk about it at a future meeting.

“Once the community finds out, they will want to know what we think about that,” Hytopoulos said. “We need to go on record.”

She said if this discussion was taking place during the budget process, “It would not be a very popular political conversation in our community.” Residents would not like it if the council just said, “Oh well, we can’t do anything.”

Councilmember Leslie Schneider said there needs to be more transparency with the public on this issue. She said she assumed that she would not benefit from the salary commission’s decision, but, “I was wrong. It’s definitely worth us talking about.”

Hytopoulos said the public needs a chance to talk about it at a future meeting. “Let’s see what the public says.”

Members of the salary commission are: Fred Whittlesey, James Hermanson, Dick Haugan, Steve Lakich, Lisa Neal and Andi O’Rourke.

According to their report:

The city has not raised the salary paid to councilmembers since 2008. They looked at the history of council salary and benefit information for similar cities statewide. The commission requested and received responses to a survey that provided insight into what the city asksthat showed councilmembers spend at least 20 hours, and frequently up to 50 hours, per week on city business.

Each councilmember is liaison to, and attends the meetings of, at least two, and sometimes up to five, citizen committees. The mayor is responsible for running council meetings, making appointments to 17 committees, setting each agenda after a weekly meeting with the city manager, and other time-consuming administrative duties.

On a rotating basis, councilmembers represent the city at multiple regional committees. They meet with, take phone calls from and receive hundreds of emails per day from constituents. The commission acknowledged that each councilmember also serves out of a sense of civic duty and a desire to “give back.” The final factor is a low compensation level places an often insurmountable bar before many otherwise qualified residents who might wish to serve.