Council votes to disband Lynnwood Salary Commission amid dispute over mayor’s recommended pay increase

Former Lynnwood Salary Commissioner Bonnie Ballard, bottom row far right, speaks during the Nov. 23 city council meeting.

The Lynnwood City Council voted Monday night to disband the city’s citizen salary commission amid disputes over a 10% increase to the mayor’s salary included in the city’s 2021-22 biennium budget.

The council voted 6-1 — with Councilmember Ruth Ross voting against — at its Nov. 23 business meeting to eliminate the salary commission after the commission recommended raising the mayor’s salary by 10%. That was despite requests from the council and Mayor Nicola Smith not to raise salaries while the city handles the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The salary commission is an independent, volunteer-based commission tasked with setting salaries for the elected city officials. Under state law, recommendations made by the commission are binding and can’t be changed. Earlier this year, Lynnwood officials asked that salary increases not be included in the budget, which is facing a $7 million shortfall from the last biennium.

“We are hurting financially because of COVID-19,” said Councilmember Jim Smith.

The commission was created last November and members planned to work from January to April. Due to the pandemic, members stopped meeting in March and resumed in June after the council approved a request to extend the meetings until November to complete their work.

The proposal also included decreasing the total annual salary for councilmembers to the average pay rate of comparable cities. During the discussion, Councilmember Smith said the decision to eliminate the commission was not an act of retaliation for the salary reductions, which he said will not impact current councilmembers.

“We can increase council salaries for the future, but absolutely nothing that the council does will change the salary of any of the councilmembers right now for their term of office,” he said.

However, former Salary Commissioner Connie Ballard said that is not the appearance the council is giving. During the public comments portion of the meeting, Ballard — who resigned from the commission before it was disbanded — said she has received backlash from the community she hoped to serve.

“In so many words, I have been called the mayor’s toadie, a liar and clandestine,” she said. “I have also felt completely disrespected as a citizen volunteer for this commission.”

According to Ballard, the requests from city leadership were taken into consideration, including a letter signed by all eight elected officials, which Ballard said could be taken as the council trying to influence an independent body.

“We did the job you asked us to do (and) you are now trying to disband an independent — might I repeat, ‘independent’ — commission because we recommended a fair change for the mayor and council,” she said.

Councilmember Ross — the sole dissenting vote against the measure — said creating the salary commission was not a mistake. During her scathing remarks, Ross said the time spent discussing the salary commission has been an embarrassing waste of city time and money.

“The salary commission is independent of the council,” she said. “Their job is to do this and they did it and now we’re going to slap them in the face.”

Though she agreed the mayor deserved a raise, Council Vice President Shannon Sessions said the city should first resolve the city’s budget crisis and re-examine how the salary commission should be structured should the city ever decide to create another one.

“I think that it is important to disband this commission not because of the people involved but just so we can relook at the way that this group is set up,” she said.

In other business, the council voted to authorize the mayor to sign a contract not to exceed $30.7 million with Marshbank Construction Inc., a Lake Stevens-based construction company, for the construction of the 196th Street Southwest Improvement project.

The roughly $130 million project will add two additional lanes – one lane in each direction – median barriers, wider sidewalks and landscape features. The improvements are needed to accommodate future growth envisioned for Lynnwood’s City Center district and to create an enhanced pedestrian environment with a boulevard appearance.

The city received six bids, which ranged from $27.9 million to $36 million, overshooting the city engineer’s $26.1 million estimate. After reviewing the low bid, staff recommended the council award the contract to Marshbank Construction.

Also during the meeting, the council voted to adopt the city’s 2021-22 biennium budget. Read more about it in Lynnwood Today’s previous story.

— By Cody Sexton

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Real first and last names — as well as city of residence — are required for all commenters.
This is so we can verify your identity before approving your comment.