The measure passed by a vote of 10-4. Council members Carla Smith, Cleta Winslow, Alex Wan, Howard Shook, Yolanda Adrean, Felicia Moore, Joyce Sheperd, Michael Bond, Aaron Watson, and H. Lamar Willis voted in favor of the measure, while Council members Kwanza Hall, Natalyn Archibong, C.T. Martin and Keisha Lance Bottoms dissented. Councilman Ivory Lee Young Jr. was absent.
The increase in compensation has no current budgetary impact.
Concurrently, council voted to rescind ordinance 08-O-2154 (12-O-1739), which would have provided the council with an immediate increase over the next two years. As a result of these two measures, the council has ensured no current member of the council will see an increase until after the 2013 election.
The council has not received a pay increase since 2005, a fact some say hampers or limits the city’s ability to attract some of Atlanta’s top talent from seeking a position on the council.
Council members routinely work up to 60 hours per week on matters ranging from committee and neighborhood meetings, various taskforce and commission obligations, to community emergencies and other constituent needs. Due to the responsibilities of the job, many council members have either reduced outside employment status to part time or have relinquished outside employment entirely to better serve their constituencies.
“The EOCC [Elected Officials Compensation Committee] worked tirelessly for almost eight months in an effort to determine comparable salaries for elected officials,” said Wendy Green, chair of the seven-member committee, an independent body of Atlanta citizens who are charged by the city charter to review the compensation of elected officials every four years.
“The commission did not consider politics or past employee compensation adjustments in making our recommendation. We specifically relied on the empirical data provided by our consultant, The Shapiro Group, and one-on-one interviews with officials being impacted by our recommendations. While sensitive to the sentiments of constituents, our recommendation was based solely on our analysis of data from comparable cities and their elected officials,” Green said.
Discussing the compensation review process, council President Ceasar Mitchell said, “While I support the EOCC’s recommendations, the council did not request that the commission explore pay increases. It is a process that is mandated by the city’s charter. Moreover, it is worth noting that the council rejected the previous commission’s recommended increase in 2008, resulting in what will effectively be an eight-year salary freeze on council compensation.
“I support the council’s decision to increase salaries for the next sitting council. The current Council is fully aware of the time commitment required to be effective in the role and wish to have that commitment reflected in the next Council’s compensation.”
After an eight-month review, the committee recommended a 33 percent increase in compensation, which according to its members is much more in line with other similarly situated cities.
The compensation for the council ($60,300 for members; $62,000 for president) is still substantially lower than that of their counterparts in cities such as Boston, Milwaukee, Denver, Portland, Seattle and Washington. While these cities are similar in population and budget, Atlanta elected leaders have a more expansive oversight responsibility, including that of managing the world’s busiest airport as well as the city’s massive sewer and water operations.
The last recommendation for a salary increase came in 2008 but was rejected by council. At that time council members expressed concern for declining revenues, anxiety over the city’s ability to fund basic municipal services, and a need to ensure good stewardship to all taxpayers, constituents, and city employees.
With the city forced to lay off and furlough employees, close City Hall on Fridays and brownout certain Atlanta Fire Rescue Department ladder trucks, elected officials were intently focused on restoring fiscal health to the city. As a result, council rejected the committee proposal.
While there is never a good time politically to raise the compensation of elected officials, members of the current council believe the city of Atlanta has done a good job in a tough economy of overseeing the current budget, boosting the city’s reserves from a low of $7.4 million in 2010 to currently more than $110 million, and working with the administration to achieve comprehensive pension reform, which is projected to save taxpayers up to $200 million over a 10-year period.
As a result of this fiscal stewardship over the past several years, the council and mayor recognize the city is in a much better position to consider comprehensive raises for city employees. In keeping with the council’s commitment to the men and women who make Atlanta run every day, council members have introduced legislation calling for a comprehensive pay increase.
This current proposal is one in a sustained series of ongoing targeted efforts by city leadership to make city workforce pay competitive with the market for comparable jobs. While initial funds for employee salary adjustments have been set aside in the two previous fiscal year budgets, council is still working with the administration to address the specifics of this measure. Since the mayor’s office has requested time to work out specific figures, council has deferred in order to grant the administration time to do so.
Over the past several years, council has reaffirmed its commitment to city employees by increasing compensation whenever possible. Council worked with the Mayor to increase pay for police and firefighters to bring their salaries to at least 80 percent of market rate. Additionally, the council has codified a living wage for all employees to ensure that no full-time city employee is eligible for public assistance as a result of receiving pay below the poverty income threshold.