It’s understandable that newly approved salary increases for 100 top Minneapolis officials might raise some eyebrows. After all, the average city resident doesn’t earn anywhere near the $100,000-$180,000 salaries of appointed city administrators.
But those officials’ increased earnings — similar to recent pay hikes for Gov. Mark Dayton’s cabinet — are reasonable. As this board has argued previously, government pay must be competitive to attract and retain the most talented managers.
With the recently approved raises, the city’s convention center executive director will earn $180,773. The city engineer will make $172,039, followed by the city coordinator at $170,015, the employee services director at $167,980 and the chief of police at $167,267. All will earn substantially more than Mayor Betsy Hodges’ $111,000 salary.
Minneapolis City Council members approved the increases based on a compensation review process that was adopted in the mid-1990s and that has been updated several times since. That review compared salaries for comparable positions in similar cities around the country and in Hennepin County and found that average top manager salaries in Minneapolis lagged the others by 6 percent.
Along with the competitive factor, the raises were also necessary to help foster promotion from within. In some departments, the top pay in a staff position had risen close to that of the department head, offering employees little incentive to seek an appointed position.
Critics of public employee pay hikes argue that they keep government agencies in a cycle of continually raising salaries to stay competitive with one another. But that is how the market works — both for public and private positions. If city officials must accept lower compensation for government service than they could earn in business (as they often do), they should at least be at or near the level of comparable public salaries.
Though the average Minneapolis salary was below the norm, not all were. A Star Tribune review of the consultant’s 2012 comparison of 62 positions found that in 15 cases Minneapolis paid higher minimum and maximum salaries than its peers. Some variations are affected by state gender equity rules or other special circumstances. The weather in this region, for example, can require special skills in a public works director.
Keep in mind that these salaries aren’t unlimited; state caps are in effect. Public entities, excluding schools and medical organizations, may not pay employees more than $165,003 in 2015 without a special waiver — an inflation-adjusted limit based on a certain percentage above the governor’s pay. Minneapolis has obtained five of the 25 waivers on file.
The Twin Cities area has a strong job market. Minneapolis and other local governments must seek workers in that environment. Overseeing millions of dollars and thousands of employees requires highly skilled — and competitively paid — leaders.