Add local government transparency and accountability to the list of 2017 losers in Minneapolis, thanks to an unnecessarily shifty year-end move by the City Council.
In case you missed the news while preparing for the holidays in your own year-end rush, the council — led by secret Santa and outgoing President Barb Johnson — voted unanimously on Dec. 15 to increase annual salaries for its members and the mayor by $10,000. (Abdi Warsame was absent.)
The numbers are less troublesome than the process, or lack thereof. The raises were not on the pre-meeting agenda, no council committees had considered them, and there was no public comment period or public hearing. They also weren’t included in the city’s recently approved $1.4 billion 2018 budget.
Johnson, ending an otherwise solid career as a voice of reason on the council, introduced the resolution, explaining during the meeting that the increases will put Minneapolis council members in similar salary territory with their full-time counterparts in Denver and Boston but still $20,000 below those in Portland and Seattle.
Minneapolis council members, who will be paid $98,695 next year, did receive 2.5 percent annual increases for the past four years after being paid $80,354 with no increases in 2012 and 2013.
Despite Johnson’s efforts, it’s difficult to make good comparisons. St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman earns $126,000 a year (vs. the $126,528 post-raise salary for Minneapolis Mayor-elect Jacob Frey), and the capital city’s council members are paid $63,000 for what is supposed to be part-time work.
Hennepin County commissioners are paid $113,566 annually, with the exception of Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson, who has kept his own salary at $108,093.
Not to be overlooked in the stealthy Minneapolis resolution is the provision that the mayor and council members also will receive raises in each year of their four-year terms. Those hikes will be tied to increases the council approves in the city’s collective bargaining agreements with unionized workers. Taxpayers should take note as those agreements take shape.
In a statement provided after the Dec. 15 meeting, city spokeswoman Sarah McKenzie pointed out that the 2018 increases represent just 0.01 percent of the total 2018 budget. The money will be scraped from the approved budgets of several city departments that had received increases for new 2018 initiatives.
“The city anticipates no negative impact to current services provided to those who live, work and play in Minneapolis as a result of this council action,” McKenzie wrote.
The Star Tribune Editorial Board has long argued that pay for public officials needs to be relatively comparable to private-sector salaries for jobs with similar responsibilities. The elected representatives who control the state’s largest and most important city should receive competitive compensation.
But Minneapolis taxpayers also deserve a more accountable, more open process than what transpired at City Hall on Dec. 15. There will be five newcomers on the 2018 council, and Frey will move into the mayor’s office. As just part of the payback for the hefty salary increases they’ll benefit from, the newcomers and veteran council members should commit to more transparency in decisionmaking.