In his first year as a small-city mayor, Regan Murphy has literally worked for free.
After campaigning on the promise that he'd donate his first year's salary as mayor of Robbinsdale, Murphy took the rare step of giving back his $10,000 salary last week.
While the amount is small compared with the salaries of big-city mayors, some of whom make upward of seven to 10 times that amount, Murphy said he sees it as a big gesture to show his commitment to his hometown. The money will help fpay for a park pavilion that the suburb of 14,000 people northwest of Minneapolis can't afford to build without donations.
"I didn't do it for the money," Murphy, 38, said about running for mayor of Robbinsdale, where he and his family live two blocks from his childhood home. "I thought 'I'll put my money where my mouth is … [through] a tangible project that would make Robbinsdale a better place.' "
After taxes, the remaining $7,000 is going to help build the city's first park pavilion, which will hug the Crystal Lake shoreline at Lakeview Terrace Park off Hwy. 81.
The city's 108-year-old band, one of the oldest city bands in Minnesota, has no permanent home, performing out of a deteriorating stage rolled out of a semitrailer truck.
Unlike other cities, Robbinsdale doesn't have a large community gathering space, so the park has become its unofficial "epicenter," Murphy said, hosting events for the city's Whiz Bang Days summer festival and the baseball fields where he and others grew up playing. "This is like a gem of a park," he said.
Murphy also is donating $800 to help start a half-marathon in the city. Set for May, the run will begin and end at the park.
Range of mayor salaries
In Minnesota, there's is a wide range of compensation for mayors depending on the City Council's structure or time commitment. For instance, neighboring Golden Valley (population 20,000) paid Mayor Shep Harris $11,619 in 2013 and Brooklyn Center (population 30,000) paid Mayor Tim Willson $11,501, while Minneapolis (population 392,000) paid former Mayor R.T. Rybak $105,568.
Duluth Mayor Don Ness recently turned down a nearly $20,000 pay raise to keep the money in the city's general fund, sticking with his $78,000 annual salary.
In Robbinsdale, City Council positions are part-time ones. Murphy works full time in sales for an orthopedic company and makes $10,151 as mayor, working an estimated six hours a week; council members are paid $8,097 a year.
"It's a passion I have for this city," he said about giving back.
Murphy was elected mayor in 2012 — the city's first new mayor in 16 years. He's already fielding questions about whether he'll donate his 2014 salary as well, but he says he'll find a new way to contribute.
"Financially, I'll continue to give back to the community," he said. "I'll probably come up with something fun next year."
A new city asset
Unlike wealthier cities with larger tax bases, Robbinsdale doesn't have a large industrial park and relies significantly on local property taxes to support basic city services. Because the city can't afford the estimated $400,000 project, it hopes to use donations and other outside revenue for the building, a simple open-air pavilion with views of the lake that could host the band and be rented out for weddings or other events.
"We're looking at it as an asset the community would enjoy," City Manager Marcia Glick said.
She said the municipal liquor store has committed $100,000 in proceeds and an anonymous donor plans to donate another $100,000 for naming rights. Now, Murphy's $7,000 donation — the first time a city leader has donated his or her salary, Glick said — will help get the project even closer to reality.
"It's significant. He's donating his entire salary," longtime city band director Mike Serber said. "It's great he's showing his support this way."