Duluth’s mayor says no thanks to a $20k raise

  • Article by: CURT BROWN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 29, 2013 - 12:34 PM

Don Ness says he is worried about accepting the bump while many of his constituents are facing job cuts or financial difficulties.

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Don Ness

Photo: Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune

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Thanks, but no thanks.

Mayor Don Ness has turned down a hefty pay raise approved by Duluth’s City Council, saying he has enough for which to be thankful without nearly $20,000 extra in salary.

Council members voted Monday to jack up Ness’ pay 25 percent from $78,000 to $97,500. It was the first time in more than a decade council members took action on mayoral pay. The raise would have kicked in Dec. 1.

After what he said was a sleepless, prayer-filled night and talks with his wife, Laura, Ness decided he wouldn’t accept the raise. The money will stay in the city’s general fund.

“The two most important parts of my life are my family and my commitment to this community,” said Ness, who has three children, ages 8, 6 and 2.

He said he wrestled with the additional financial security the increase would have meant for the kids’ college funds vs. serving cash-strapped constituents facing pay cuts while his wallet was getting fatter.

“While any family could use a bit more, I didn’t feel it was necessary,” Ness said in an interview. “I worried about my ability to adequately represent the people of Duluth while carrying the weight of this unusual salary increase.”

He explained to his Facebook followers that “this is not at all driven in reaction to the hateful voices out there, rather it’s motivated by an overwhelming sense of being blessed by this community and not needing anything more from a community that has given so much.”

Ness said any debate over the mayor’s pay should wait until his current term expires in 2015. He’ll decide a year from now whether to seek a third term.

“I do believe the mayor’s salary should be adjusted,” he said. “But that would be most appropriately done after the next election.”

Then, the policy decision can be reached “with the position in mind and not the person.”

Ness said his current salary is “very fair” and enables Laura to stay home with the kids.

“We’re just thankful we have healthy and vibrant children,” his wife said.

Ness, 39, was first elected from a field of a dozen candidates in 2007 and won a second term in 2011, when he became Duluth’s first mayor to run unopposed since the city was incorporated in 1887.

To no surprise, Ness’ decision was popular with his constituents.

“He’s just a good-hearted, honest and family-oriented person and the last thing he’d want to do is take money some people feel he doesn’t deserve,” said Barb Koberstein, 60, whose son went to Duluth Central High School with the mayor she calls Donnie. She was among more than 1,200 of Ness’ Facebook followers who quickly “liked” his announcement.

“He should be president,” she said. “Maybe he has higher aspirations. People can be vicious when you’re in politics, but he’s such a tenderhearted, good person and he absolutely deserves the raise for uniting our city behind wonderful projects.”

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