By J. PATRICK PEPPER
DEARBORN — An advisory committee voted Tuesday to raise the pay of the city clerk $2,030 retroactive to the beginning of 2009, while keeping current pay levels for the mayor, City Council, and the council president.
The seven-member Local Officials Compensation Committee, which meets biannually to assess elected officials’ pay, filed a nonbinding resolution on Friday. Each elected office now has to approve the recommendations.
Currently, the mayor’s base pay is $133,133. Council members receive $14,409, plus $7,662 for a maximum of 90 meetings. The council president receives a larger base salary, garnering $17,267 annually in addition to the meeting pay. The clerk is paid $70,525.
But for the first time in the 10-year history of the LOCC, the commissioners were not unanimous in their recommendations. While all were in agreement that the mayor, council and council president’s position should not see a raise, members split 5-2 in favor of the clerk’s raise.
Commissioners Karl Fava, a certified public accountant; Andrew Mazzara, former Henry Ford Community College president; Gary Kuhlmann, owner of Park Place Catering; Gary Stanford, co-owner of Les Stanford Chevrolet; and John Adams, a retired Dearborn Public Schools teacher, voted in favor of the raise while human resources consultant and Dearborn schools labor negotiator Cynthia Pepper and John Tobin, respectively, opposed.
And despite using nearly all of the 45 days allotted by city charter to deliberate their decisions, the clerk’s pay wasn’t settled until the final meeting. The debate was one of parity against ability to pay.
Mazzara, who chaired the subcommittee that worked on the mayor and clerk pay, said the raise was merited because the clerk’s position had not seen an increase in six years. Over that time, he reasoned, the consumer price index in the area has risen more than 9 percent, and a comparison of eight Michigan cities within 80 percent to 120 percent of Dearborn’s population put the city’s clerk pay ninth.
Also, the subcommittee surmised that the uncontested race for City Clerk in the upcoming November election could be an indicator that the pay level is not attracting enough people seeking the position.
“I’m afraid that if we don’t tackle this now, (the stagnant wage) is going to be a much bigger problem to deal with down the line,” Mazzara said.
On the other side of the argument, Pepper and Adams contended it sends the wrong message to recommend a pay increase when the region is reeling from a deep recession. Pepper questioned why they should increase the pay when public officials across southeast Michigan are taking pay cuts and tax revenue is receding. She also contended that the pay couldn’t be too much of a deterrent since incumbent Kathleen Buda – presumably the person who knows most intimately what the job entails – will be seeking re-election in November. The lack of challengers could be due to any number of reasons, Pepper said.
“People don’t get into public service for the money,” she said. “I think they do it because it’s a calling and they just really have that desire to serve.”
For his part, Tobin said he couldn’t approve a pay increase at a time when the city is borrowing from cash reserves to cover budget shortfalls.
“I just don’t see how we can justify this to the public,” Tobin said.
Tobin also made things a little tense during the course of the meeting when the freshman commissioner asked whether or not Buda, who was sitting a few feet away, was allowed to be in the room as the committee deliberated what would effectively be her salary.
Answering Tobin, Fava said he spoke to other commissioners privately who had mentioned how her presence at the previous LOCC meeting made some feel uncomfortable, but confirmed her right to be there per open meeting laws.
Buda deferred, however, and voluntarily left the meeting.
“No harm, no foul,” she said on the way out.
By J. PATRICK PEPPER