A city commission on Monday unanimously approved salary increases for San Jose elected leaders, including a whopping $58,000 raise for Mayor Sam Liccardo and a $28,000 raise for city councilmembers.
But on Tuesday morning, Liccardo rejected the raise in a new memo released by his office.
Instead, Liccardo suggested aligning current and future mayoral salary increases with those typical for most employees, about 3 percent annually. He suggested receiving no more than a 3 percent annual raise for the duration of his term.
“When voters last year authorized the Salary Setting Commission to decide on the salaries of sitting Councilmembers and Mayor, I doubt any of our residents had in mind the magnitude of increases proposed by that commission,” Liccardo said. “Our City colleagues don’t earn salary increases of that nature, and we have ominous signs of budgetary challenges ahead – that’s why I’m calling for a reduction of the Mayoral salary increase to something more modest.”
Liccardo, who received backlash from some city workers following this news organization’s report about the raises on Monday night, said in his memo that inflation in Dec. 2018 rose 4.5 percent over the prior 12 months, and his raise should not exceed that.
“I recommend a reduction of the increase to something more modest,” the mayor wrote. “I recommend a rate of 3 percent, which reflects the minimum raises that most of our employees received last year and this year.”
But commissioners argued that the raises are necessary to meet the growing demands and responsibilities that the job requires while considering that San Jose is the tenth largest city in the U.S., according to a letter from commissioners Eileen Consiglio, David Burckhard and Chairman Douglas Ludlow.
City councilmembers will receive a new salary of $125,000 — up from about $97,000 last year — a 22 percent raise. Liccardo was set to receive $190,000, a nearly 30 percent increase from his 2018 salary of $132,000. The new base salaries go into effect on July 1.
Now with Liccardo rejecting his raise, the City Council may adopt an ordinance rejecting the proposed salary increases or submit a letter to reduce their salaries by a set amount, said City Clerk Toni Taber.
The raises were recommended by the 3-member Salary Setting Commission, which looked at elected officials’ salaries in other major cities to make its suggestions. The commission will not meet again this year, said Taber.
“The Commission felt strongly that the salary should empower good candidates who can devote their full time to the position,” the commissioners said in a letter to City Manager Dave Sykes. “A strong competitive salary for the City Council is imperative to attracting the kind of candidates who will be strong stewards of the City of San Jose. The Commission strongly believes that the compensation for the Mayor and Councilmembers should be fair and adequate with respect to the scope and complexity of their responsibilities.”
The role of the Salary Setting Commission shifted after voters approved Measure U last fall, which removed councilmembers and the mayor from approving their own salaries — a hot button issue that voters agreed was a conflict of interest.
Previously, the commission made recommendations for raises, but the City Council voted to adopt them, which became a highly-politicized affair. Now, the commission approves the salaries outright, taking the decision-making out of the elected officials’ hands.
Starting this year, the commission sets salaries that will be revisited every five years. In between the five years, the mayor and councilmembers will receive annual raises based on cost-of-living increases, but no more than 5 percent per year.
While pay raises are important to keep up with inflation, some argue that the standard should be met for every city worker — not just the mayor and City Council.
“What message does it send to the employees of the city when the mayor is given a massive increase in compensation?” said Bradley Fox, a city engineer and president of the Architects and Engineers Union. “We’re not against correcting for equities, but I think it’s bad optics to be asking employees to tighten their belts when they say, ‘We can only afford to give you a 3 percent increase’ or whatever that nominal cost of living rate may be — and then turn around and accept a raise that’s much higher than that for themselves.”
The mayor and City Council members in the past have received benefits that other city workers did not, Fox added, such as pensionable pay increases. He said it’s important that city elected officials “lead by example” and “take increases that are commensurate with what they’re asking employees to take.”
But the commissioners argued that a competitive salary is critical to attracting qualified residents to run for office, an “equally important” reason to raise the salary base pay.
Data compiled by the commission shows Liccardo last year earned less than mayors in San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles — though they all have a strong mayor system that gives their mayors more authority and control over city governance.
Liccardo’s salary of $132,000 last year was higher than mayors in Fresno, Sacramento and San Diego.
“The Council’s salaries should be appropriately competitive by the local living standards so that San Jose residents are not unduly deterred from running for office,” the commissioners said. “Overall, compensation is one of several significant factors in encouraging candidates to run for Mayor and Council position.”
The commissioners cited several variables that contributed to the salary increases, including the high-stakes responsibilities of an elected official’s position, the frequency of City Council meetings and committees, events that elected officials must attend and the size and population of San Jose.
The commissioners will not meet again until 2024 to discuss the next salary base rate, said Taber, who added that in five years it will most likely “be a completely new commission.”
Contact Nadia Lopez at [email protected] or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.