The Lynnwood City Council at its Monday, Nov. 23 meeting is set to decide whether to disband the city’s citizens salary commission after it recommended a 10% salary increase for the city’s mayor – a raise that neither the mayor nor the council wants.
Under state law, the recommendation made by the independent, volunteer-based commission is binding and can’t be changed. A council decision to disband the commission will have no impact on the salary recommendations, said City Attorney Rosemary Larson.
In response to the financial impacts of COVID-19, the Lynnwood City Council and Mayor Nicola Smith committed to not accepting pay increases as part of the city’s 2021-22 biennial budget. In June, a letter signed by all eight of the city’s elected leaders was sent to the salary commission.
The commission is tasked with setting the salaries of the elected city council members and mayor based on cities that compare in size and population. Salary Commission Chair Michele McGraw said the council’s request for no pay increases was considered very carefully by the commission, but added that it did not align with their “best practices” standards.
“As an independent body, it was a priority of the commissioners that key leadership positions be compensated fairly in order to recruit competent people to these openings as they become available,” she said.
The commission was created last November and planned to work from January to April. Due to the pandemic, the commission stopped meeting in March. Meetings resumed in June after a request from the commission for an extension to November to complete their work was approved by the council. During that time, the commission completed their analysis, held two required public hearings and shared final decisions with the city’s finance department to prepare for the budget.
According to the commission’s proposal, Lynnwood’s mayor is paid less than mayors in other cities that compare in size and population. By applying a 10% pay increase, the mayor’s salary would match the average for mayoral salaries in those cities at $124,107. If the 2021 budget is approved, the rate would begin January 2021.
Conversely, the salary of a Lynnwood City Council member is higher than the average salary of the five comparable cities. As a result, the commission is recommending decreasing the council’s total annual salary to the average of comparable cities at $15,726. The reduction would not take effect until after the next election of each council position.
The 2022 portion of the recommendation for both mayor and councilmembers is tied to the Consumer Price Index (CPI-U) for the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue area in anticipation of economic recovery before the end of the budget cycle, McGraw said.
“The timing and impacts of the pandemic are unfortunate, but with Lynnwood poised for great population growth and economic development, we stand behind the process we used as being forward thinking and fair in setting salaries for Lynnwood’s eight elected officials,” she added.
During the council’s Oct. 26 business meeting, Councilmember George Hurst said he supported the proposed pay reductions but disagreed with the commission’s decision to give the mayor a pay raise.
“I don’t think any of us were upset about the action taken on council salaries, it was the fact that there was an increase in the mayor’s salary,” he said.
On Oct. 21, the council held a special work session to discuss their options. Councilmembers met privately in executive sessions for two hours, during which time they were informed that the commission had filed its final recommendation.
While the council is unable to do anything about the proposed raise, Councilmember Jim Smith said Lynnwood residents could draft a petition asking that the mayor not be given a pay raise. He said the petition would support a referendum that could appear in the next election cycle.
“It is now in the hands of the citizens of Lynnwood,” he said.
Smith – who also supports eliminating the commission – suggested during the council’s Oct. 26 business meeting that the council should return to setting salaries the way it was done before the salary commission was formed.
“It’s not to say we don’t appreciate what they’ve done, but it does mean that the council had very important budget concerns for the city for 2021 and 2022 and we need to do something to minimize the problem,” he said.
–By Cody Sexton