NORWALK, Conn. – One Norwalk mayoral hopeful left the room Tuesday night, while another – the official candidate for his party – stayed, making the occasional joke as an uncomfortable conversation unfolded.
Common Council members, one by one, laid out their reasons either for or against raising the pay scale for the next mayor, as Republican Mayor Richard Moccia handled the honors of running the meeting.
Councilman Matt Miklave (D-District A), a Democratic mayoral hopeful, recused himself from the discussion. Moccia stayed, saying, “Unless it is a tie vote – I cannot recuse myself, I run the meeting. If I have to break a tie, guess what Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m voting no.”
Council members were debating a change in the ordinance employee and elected official pay matrix. The salary of the next mayor – not necessarily Moccia – would be set at the midpoint of the finance director’s salary, $138,465 – a raise of more than 20 percent. The town clerk’s salary would be set at the minimum of the grants coordinator, $88,384. The registrar of voters would be set at the minimum of an executive assistant, $53,031. Other employees are eligible for a 2.25 percent pay raise retroactive to July 1, and 2 percent next July 1.
The matrix passed on a 12-1 vote, with Councilwoman Anna Duleep (D-At Large) as the only dissenting vote. Miklave abstained. Councilman Fred Bondi (R-At Large) was not present.
Although the matrix affected ordinance employees (department heads and other city officials) as well as elected officials, the debate centered on the mayor’s salary.
Duleep said she could understand the argument for a mayoral pay raise, but at a time when the council is struggling to do things like reinstate library aides at the schools she could not in good conscience vote for the raise. She also mentioned the lack of remuneration for council members.
Councilman Doug Hempstead (R-At Large), chairman of the personnel committee, said the matrix was a compromise that was “vetted, revetted (and) vetted again.” Like others, he said the mayor, as CEO of the city, should at least have an equal salary as the department heads he evaluates, as a matter of respect.
“You’re taking the hits, you’re taking the credits, you’re making the decisions,” he said. “I think the mayor’s salary should be at the top of the list.”
Councilman Carvin Hilliard (D-District B) agreed. “I think a city of 85,000 people to have the mayor not make even as much, I think he should make more than department heads because he has more responsibility,” he said. “I think a reasonable person would understand that.”
Hempstead said setting the salary at the midpoint of the finance director’s salary was a compromise. “We struggled with this,” he said.
The matrix was also based on other union contracts that are pending, he said. “It started with us having a political discussion about their pay raises,” he said.
Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-District D) acknowledged that it was a difficult decision to make in an election year but said a higher mayoral salary is necessary to attract “the highest quality of people going forward.”
“I know a lot of folks who would make excellent mayors who couldn’t afford it, they just couldn’t afford to do it,” he said. “I’m not saying he should make an exorbitant amount … we have to make it financially possible for them to be mayor and perhaps have a couple of kids in college.”
Councilman Warren Peña agreed. “It was stunning when I first came on the scene to see how much the mayor makes,” he said, prompting another Moccia quip: “Stunning to my wife, too.”
Like Duleep, Peña said it would be nice if council members got more than the $50 stipend they get now.
Duleep held firm. “It’s not that I don’t think the chief elected official of the city of this size should not get significant remuneration, just like I think what we make should be enough to cover one night’s childcare,” she said. “I would like to see a legislative aide who could help us, someone independent of the department heads that could help us, or even tablets that other people have so that they don’t have to get packets on paper.”
She mentioned the need to fund the schools’ expensive switch to Common Core Standards and the gun violence debate.
“I cannot go in good conscience with a hat in hand to Hartford and say, ‘Hey we need your help’ (to keep guns out of Connecticut) … and then say, ‘By the way, I just voted for a pay raise for our CEO,’” she said. “It’s hard enough to dispel the perception that we are on the gold coast.”
A mayor has an option to accept a pay raise or not, and Moccia reminded everyone that he did not take one for two years.
As for Duleep’s comments, he said, “The argument that the pay raise for whoever the mayor may be is something that will keep the board of ed from functioning, I can’t accept that.”
Moccia made $113,963 in 2012, documents show. The new salary, with a raise of about $24,500, is 21.5 percent higher. Town Clerk Rick McQuaid made $85,472; should he win re-election, he would get a 3.4 percent raise. Republican Registrar Karen Doyle Lyons made $50,423 in 2012; Democratic Registrar Stuart Wells made $49,948. They would get about a 5 percent raise.
The maximum set for the finance director’s salary is the highest one in the city. Deputy Corporation Counsel Jeffry Spahr actually makes more than Finance Director Thomas Hamilton, though, as he has been with the city longer. Spahr made $140,019 to Hamilton’s $138,079 in 2012, documents show.
Correction made, 1:55 a.m.
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