San Jose candidate criticized over approving pay raises
San Jose City Hall is pictured in this file photo.

    San Jose officials approved raises for some city staff—which they typically do annually—but it’s become a contentious campaign talking point.

    This week, the city council unanimously approved a 2.5% raise for council-appointed positions, including City Manager Jennifer Maguire, City Auditor Joe Rois, City Clerk Toni Taber, City Attorney Nora Frimann and Independent Police Auditor Shivaun Nurre. The raise passed without comment.

    San Jose mayoral candidate and Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez took to social media to call out her opponent Matt Mahan, a city councilmember, for approving the raise and not speaking out against it—arguing it goes against one of his campaign promises. They’re battling it out in an expensive and close race to replace Mayor Sam Liccardo, who terms out this year. Ballots are out and Election Day is Nov. 8.

    Mahan, who has based his campaign around accountability—especially when it comes to raises at San Jose City Hall—said since his campaign promise to tie raises to goal metrics is not in place, it doesn’t make sense to vote against raises. For example, if San Jose set a goal to reduce homelessness by 5%, but didn’t achieve the goal, that would factor into the performance-based raise for the head of the housing department.

    If Mahan becomes mayor, he wants to push for this change.

    “My proposal is very clear: we should prioritize and set goals via the budget process, publicly track progress toward goals and then tie future pay raises for elected officials and relevant department heads to measurable progress toward the goal,” Mahan told San José Spotlight.

    Mahan tried to implement this process in June, but his council colleagues voted it down. Campaign representatives told San José Spotlight Mahan spent months in closed session discussing the raises. In those discussions, he found that officials met the existing performance benchmark to warrant the raises, so he was onboard.

    “Chavez is complaining that we approved a 2.5% raise for the five council appointees?” Mahan said. “We need to change the way we are setting and managing against goals before we start recklessly messing with people’s livelihoods.”

    Chavez argues Mahan’s silence during the vote shows his campaign promise is empty and baseless. She said he contradicted himself by voting in favor of the raises.

    “Mr. Mahan’s approval of the pay hike yesterday is proof that talk is cheap with him,” Chavez said. “I look at what a person does, not what they say.”

    Representatives with Chavez’s campaign said Mahan has spent the last few months campaigning that he would withhold raises if homelessness rates didn’t improve—so approving raises now does not make sense.

    The raises approved this week only apply to five council-appointed positions. For this employee classification, raises are negotiated through the mayor’s office.

    “(Raises) occur in two ways: general wage increases and performance-based increases,” city spokesperson Carolina Camarena told San José Spotlight. “Performance-based increases for these classifications are authorized, typically annually, by the city council.”

    General wage increases are also approved annually by the city council. Employees, with the exception of Maguire who was appointed in 2021, already received a 4.5% general wage increase in June and a 2.5% performance-based increase in July 2021. The 2.5% bump this week counts as the performance-based increase for 2022.

    With the recent performance-based increase, those employees can expect to see pay raises between $5,000 to $9,000. The city auditor’s pay will increase to more than $243,000; city clerk to $216,000; city attorney to $367,000 and the independent police auditor to $268,000. The city manager makes more than $392,000.

    Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.

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