Updated 6/22/17 (from the Democrat and Chronicle)
City Hall salaries in spotlight during election year
Near the end of his city budget critique this week, mayoral candidate James Sheppard took aim at Mayor Lovely Warren's salary.
The argument, in short, was that Warren and her senior staffers are generously compensated — the mayoral salary being among the state's highest — while the city and its residents struggle to make ends meet.
While there were some problems with his argument, it nonetheless struck a chord.
There has been on-and-off talk of a salary commission to review the city's top-level salaries — including mayor, City Council and senior management — and City Council member and Finance Committee chairwoman Carolee Conklin said Thursday that she plans to revisit that conversation with her colleagues.
Such a proposal would come out of her committee and Conklin, who is retiring this year, has nothing to gain or lose in proposing it.
"I'm more than willing to put it out there again," she said, in a conversation that moved from something that could be done in the future, to something that should get started now. "Now is a good time."
So, backing up for a moment, this is what Sheppard said in his budget critique:
One financial outlook that continues to look very positive — Mayor Warren’s bank account. She voted to raise her pay the month before taking office, and now earns a base salary that is $40,000 more than the Mayor of Buffalo. With a salary of more than $143,000, four times the median salary of the average Rochester resident and second only to New York City Mayor, one thing is for certain — Mayor Warren is doing fine with this budget.
“While the poor get poorer, crime in our poorest neighborhoods continues to increase, and schools continue to fail, Mayor Warren and her top staff are prospering,” Sheppard said.
Warren was elected mayor in 2013, and resigned her City Council post that November. The vote to set the mayor's salary came a month later. And there was no raise.
The mayor's salary is set by City Council at the start of each four-year term. Council members followed established practice by freezing the salary for one year, then allowing for cost of living adjustments in the subsequent three years.
A more recent practice had been for the mayor to accept the established salary in their first year, then refuse subsequent increases. Duffy declined raises his last two years in office. Mayor Thomas Richards declined throughout, staying at $133,814, which is what makes it appear that Warren — in accepting the established but frozen salary — got a pay bump when she took office at $140,861.
Warren took modest pay increases in 2015 ($2,367) and 2016 ($172), and her salary increased to $143,399. She declined an increase this year, city officials said, when her salary would otherwise have climbed to $145,837.
This is what we reported in December 2013:
Warren, in an emailed statement, said the mayoral salary is not under the mayor's control but that she would "follow the practice set by the past two incoming mayors ... and will hold at the current rate for the next year." Asked for clarification, Warren said through a spokeswoman that she did not want to speculate about the future. It's worth noting that while they declined raises, Richards left Rochester Gas and Electric with a $10 million payout, mostly in stock and stock options, while Duffy also received his $70,255 police pension.
Sheppard is challenging Warren in a Democratic primary that also includes former WROC-TV (Channel 8) reporter/anchor Rachel Barnhart.
He is the city's former police chief and a current Monroe County legislator, and he collects a $87,294 pension in addition to his county salary, records show.
In a statement Thursday, he apologized for "inadvertent inaccuracies" in the earlier release. That included overlooking the salary of the Yonkers mayor. Here's a quick look at mayoral salaries, by city, according to See Through NY (records are for 2016):
New York City* (Bill de Blasio) $223,799
Yonkers* (Mike Spano) $156,099
Rochester (Lovely Warren) $143,261
Albany (Kathy Sheehan) $134,765
Syracuse (Stephanie Miner) $115,000
Buffalo (Byron Brown) $104,317
*Cities have mayoral control of public schools
Buffalo hasn't raised the mayor's salary since 2000, according to a spokesman for Mayor Brown. Back then, the two cities' mayoral salaries were more closely aligned, with the Rochester mayor paid $106,512, records show.
"As mayor, I will freeze my salary and that of my senior management team at 2010 levels," Sheppard said. "I will also explore reallocating my salary to the Summer of Opportunity program to employ more city youth. Regardless, I will not accept both the mayor's salary and my pension."
When it comes to City Hall senior management, Warren's team has seen salaries increase 7 percent overall during her tenure, records show. The median salary for her Cabinet-level appointees is $133,358.
We have that data because City Council member Molly Clifford (and Sheppard supporter) requested the records during the recent budget hearing process. The request was made as Clifford and Conklin questioned the administration about changes in the Office of Public Integrity, why some employee positions and salaries had changed, and whether there was supporting documentation for upgrades and downgrades.
The lowest-paid members of Warren's senior management team are newly hired Chief of Staff Alex Yudelson, with a salary of $112,490 as of January (his predecessor, Jeremy Cooney, left with a salary of $132,038), and Corporation Counsel Brian Curran, who moved into the role in 2015-16, and today is paid $130,552.
"The city of Rochester over the years has tried to establish fair rates of pay for every employee ... all the way up to the mayor," said city spokesman James Smith, whose salary has increased $9,300 since he arrived in 2015, to a current $133,358.
Smith pointed to the administration's achievements. And he added that human resources discourages freezing pay at top levels as "payroll compression" can create an imbalance.
Sheppard charged that it was "irresponsible" for the mayor and her Cabinet to be paid four times the city's median income, which the census puts at $30,960.
These salaries are set according to a salary schedule that provides established steps across a specified range. Warren brought her team in below the top step but has moved all but Curran and Yudelson to the top mark, just as Richards and Duffy did before her, including for Sheppard, who records show was being paid nearly $130,000 when he retired.