Council reduces mayor’s pay by unanimous vote

The City Council last night night unanimously (9-0) approved a salary ordinance (0-38-11) that will slash the mayor’s pay by 68 percent, effective Jan. 1, 2012. Entering the second year of a four-year term, Mayor Rick Proctor will see the salary for his part-time post reduced from $65,000 to $20,809.

As he has maintained for weeks, the mayor said the move by City Council is “political payback” for seeking accountability. “I refused to go along with business as usual approach to management. And now I am paying the price,” he wrote in a three-page memo to Council President David Brown dated yesterday. Accompanying the memo was a bar graph indicating the percentage increase in salary ranges for management personnel under the proposed ordinance, most of which were 0 to 4 percent — except for the mayor’s position.

“Passage of this ordinance is fiscally irresponsible and totally unnecessary given that a valid ordinance is in effect. If passed, your actions will make it clear that the only purpose is to attack the mayor’s salary,” Proctor wrote. He claimed the governing body is purposely deviating from past practice that has been in effect for 20 years, where the council adopts the municipal budget, and then, based on available funding, passes a salary ordinance for management personnel.

“No one in this city is foolish enough to believe that you take this action pursuant to a reasoned, thoughtful consideration of its consequences,” Proctor wrote. “This council acts now based on politics, in an arbitrary and capricious manner. You have allowed this legislative body to be coerced by a small but threatening minority whose political rewards have been threatened by me as mayor.” (All nine council members and the mayor are Democrats.)

The few residents who were in attendance Monday night spoke at the public meeting. Scott Caffee of West Scott Avenue, a frequent attendee at City Council meetings in recent months, agreed that the mayor’s pay cut was a “personal, calculated” move by the governing body and suggested reducing everyone’s salary. Frequent council critic Patrick Cassio, the local Republican chairman and a candidate against Proctor last year, questioned why the council did not act in January when Proctor took office and what happened between now and the last election season cycle when other council members campaigned for the mayor.

Sixth Ward Councilman Samson Steinman, who worked on Proctor’s mayoral campaign last fall, conceded the pay cut should have been done a year ago, making the point that department heads who replaced longtime directors in recent years also were brought in at lower salaries. He continued to reject claims that the pay cut was a personal slight against the mayor.

Floren Robinson of Essex Street feared that cutting the salary will discourage qualified people who might want to run and not incentivize people to work to better the city or deal with all that it takes to be mayor. “Fighting over a few thousand dollars is not going to help the city,” she said. Her husband, Michael Pressman, a compensation consultant by trade, told the council that compensation can “serve as a powerful performance motivator” and in any situation where a person is replacing an incumbent, they’re aware of the terms prior to their new role. He said the city needs a cooperative government and an engaged mayor, emphasizing his concerns that the ordinance will have a negative impact.

Steinman countered that the mayor’s position is not a job as much as it is public service. “To look at the mayor’s job as a job is totally wrong,” he said. Fifth Ward Councilwoman Jennifer Wenson-Maier suggested that some highly qualified mayors in other Union County towns make $1 in their positions, such as Fanwood’s Colleen Mahr. Council members earn $8,043 and also are considered part-time posts.

Other council members didn’t speak on the salary ordinance directly, alluding to it and other critiques in their public comments. Councilman At Large James Baker called some of the criticisms of the council “out of line, not based on any sound perspective.” He said the accomplishments by this council and mayor are often “overlooked or oversimplified. We make difficult decisions in a proactive and positive way and the public is not necessarily aware of these things.”

Brown, the council president and representative to the Fourth Ward, suggested that when the current council majority took control of the governing body in 1996, “downtown was a ghost town.” Some of those same council members, he added, have been responsible for bringing millions of dollars into the city.

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