East Lansing’s Elected Officers Compensation Commission – the group tasked with recommending to Council how much Council members should be paid for their service – will recommend that the Mayor’s salary be raised from $9,772 to $10,000 and that other Council members’ salaries be raised from $8,294 to $8,500.
At a meeting on Sept. 22, 2021, the commission also decided to recommend that those salaries automatically increase by two percent for the following Fiscal Year, to be on par with increases in many City employees’ wages. Now, according to Michigan state law, Council will decide whether to accept or reject these recommendations.
The Council-appointed Elected Officers Compensation Commission meets every two years to make these recommendations, and at this year’s meeting, the commissioners in attendance included Nancy Schertzing, Veda Hawkins, Jennifer Arbogast, Ryan Mellott, Flemming Mathiasen, and Sarah Chapman Preisser. (John Czarnecki was absent.)
At the meeting, the previous chair, Schertzing, suggested that the group appoint a new chair. Mathiasen volunteered, and was unanimously elected. Jennifer Shuster, the City Clerk and staff to the committee, and City Council member Lisa Babcock were also in attendance. Babcock is the designated Council liaison to the group.
The discussion began with the feeling expressed by some that Council members should be paid more in order to ensure that people from all socioeconomic backgrounds could afford to serve on City Council, including potentially as Mayor. (In East Lansing, the five Council members decide who among them will serve as Mayor.)
Preisser brought up the topic by stating that the existing salary would not be enough for a Council member to pay for a babysitter during meeting times. She said that if the City truly wants every citizen to have equal opportunities to serve, then they must receive enough pay to make up for time that would otherwise be spent working or taking care of dependents.
“It’s great that we have good public servants who are willing to [serve] not for the money, but to serve their community, but that limits the ability to participate to people who have the privilege to do that,” Preisser said. “It seems gracious and good that [Council] is saying, ‘no, we don’t need to get paid any more,’ but it might actually be limiting, in the future, others to contribute and help us get to a more diverse Council if we aren’t able to level the playing field a little bit in terms of peoples’ economic backgrounds.”
Although the commission recognized that most East Lansing Council members probably do not heavily weigh salary in their decisions to run for the office, many commissioners still wanted to ensure that anyone who would have to consider pay would have the opportunity to serve without suffering financially.
The commission also discussed changes in inflation, and they discussed the two-percent wage increase that City employees received starting on July 1, 2021 (the start of the 2022 Fiscal Year).
Mathiasen then presented data about Ann Arbor’s and Kalamazoo’s mayor and city council salaries that he had found online. He argued these were relevant comparisons because they are both college towns similar to East Lansing.
Ann Arbor’s population is about 2.5 times the size of East Lansing and has a mayor directly elected by the people plus 10 Council members elected by wards. Ann Arbor’s mayor earns about $46,000 and their Council members about $23,000 per year. Kalamazoo’s population is about 1.6 times the size of East Lansing. There, the mayor and City commissioners earn close to what their East Lansing peers do.
To move the conversation towards a recommendation, Mathiasen asked if anyone had any specific numbers in mind. Hawkins responded that students who work in the MSU cafeterias make $15 per hour, so she thought that was a good starting point as a per-hour pay.
This proposal led to a conversation about how many hours City Council members and the Mayor spend working. The commission asked Babcock for her calculation of how many hours she spends working for Council.
She did not know off the bat. But after estimating the hours she puts in, Babcock determined that “to do the job well” and “in a way that is worthy to this community,” Council members must spend at least 10 to 15 hours a week working for the people.
Babcock also pointed out that the numbers were always changing based on what was happening in the community at the time, and also that everything moving temporarily online had also influenced the numbers.
At that point, the commission started to construct what they called “a model” using a rate of $15 per hour for 15 hours per week, but Mellott pointed out that if they were to build such a model, then they would have to defend it by showing the 15 hours, which were not easily verifiable.
The group discussed whether or not they should create a specific model (that is, recommendations based on specific calculations with clear rationales). Babcock pointed out that when they present the model to Council, they could explain their reasoning, which she said would be different than most years when the commission just present the recommendation without much explanation.
“If you are building a model, then presenting it that way, and letting the Council know that, tells Council members, and future Council members, that it also sets a community expectation,” Babcock said. “[It’s like saying], ‘if you’re going to run for City Council, this is what we, the residents of East Lansing, expect you to do for us when you come to our doors to ask for support.’ I think there’s value in realizing that your model could be used that way as well.”
Schertzing then commented that if they do recommend an increase in salary, it shouldn’t be too drastic because, she opined, the Council would likely reject it. If that happens, the Council would keep their current salaries.
After a debate about what percent increase they thought the Council would accept, Mathiasen shared that he thought they should recommend what they think is right, regardless of what they expect Council to do.
After discussing some more options, including a two-percent increase for this year and another two-percent increase next year, the commissioners decided that increasing by a dollar amount, rather than percentages, would work best. Some members did not want to recommend a substantial increase, lest the Council reject the increase and leave the salaries at the current level.
The final unanimous decision was to recommend a modest increase in the Mayor’s salary from $9,772 to $10,000 and in the other Council members’ salaries from $8,294.48 to $8,500 for this Fiscal Year, and to increase them by two percent for the fiscal year 2023.
Mathiasen will compose a letter with the recommendation to Council, and Shuster will present it during the City Council meeting on Oct. 5. City Council can accept the recommendation or reject it; they cannot come up with an alternative.
What did previous commissions recommend?
In advance of the Sept. 22 meeting, Clerk Shuster provided the following “12-year Lookback”:
2009: “Commissioners’ recommendation to the East Lansing City Council reflected the need to hold salaries steady at the 2009 recommended amount, for Fiscal Years 2010 and 2011.”
2011: “Commissioners reviewed past decisions and found a tradition of holding the line on wages in poor economic times. Commissioners voted reluctantly but unanimously to hold the line on salaries for the Mayor and City Council for two more years.”
2013: “Commissioners voted to raise by 1.5% each year, the salaries of Mayor and City Council. It should be noted that the 2013 City Council voted to reject this recommendation and to hold salaries steady.”
2015: “In light of wages remaining stagnant since 2009, Commissioners voted to increase the Mayor’s salary by 2% and increase City Councilmembers’ salaries by 1% each of the next two years.”
2017: “Because of the initial failure of the income tax, the tight budget and given the council’s raise in 2015, the Commissioners voted to hold the line on salaries for the Mayor and City Council for two years.”
2019: “In an effort to foster greater income diversity on the City Council, the Commissioners voted to raise the salaries of the Mayor and City Council by 1.5 percent.”
See the remainder of the Clerk’s memo to the Commission here.