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Give mayor, council members more pay, panel says

St. Petersburg's Rick Baker makes less than 17 members of his staff. The potential salary increase now goes to the City Council for a vote.

By CARRIE JOHNSON
Published December 14, 2005


ST. PETERSBURG - Mayor Rick Baker and City Council members should get a raise of more than 30 percent, a City Council committee agreed Tuesday.

Under the proposal, Baker's salary would jump from $113,644 to $150,000 and council members' from $27,316 to $37,000. The council is expected to vote on the proposal Thursday.

Baker, who is paid less than 17 members of his staff, thinks an increase is appropriate.

"I don't think it's healthy for any organization to have a chief executive officer that makes less than the people he manages," he said.

At $150,000, he would make about $5,000 more than his highest-paid staff members.

The proposed increases were approved by the council's budget, finance and taxation committee, which will send its recommendation to the full council. The final numbers could change.

The committee voted 3-0 to raise Baker's salary to $150,000 and 2-1 for the council increase. Council member Bill Foster was the lone dissenter, saying he favored a more modest increase to put the council salary between $30,000 to $35,000.

"Contrary to years past, I'm not going to get on my soap box and scream and yell," Foster said. "I think it's worthy of discussion."

Committee members Jamie Bennett and Earnest Williams said the increase is justified.

"I feel that council members and their job description and how they are perceived and what is expected from them from citizens has increased," Bennett said.

Williams said he feared the city couldn't attract good candidates for mayor without a significant salary increase. He suggested sending the City Council a salary range of $147,000 to $212,000 and asking the council to settle on a final amount.

"The mayor has the ultimate responsibility for the city," Williams said. "Why are we downplaying that? Why not allow the CEO to be paid for the responsibility that comes with the position."

Williams agreed to the $150,000 after his colleagues said the range he favored was too broad.

The potential salary increases were prompted by an annual review by internal services director Mike Connors.

Connors surveyed four other Florida cities with a strong-mayor system of government and found St. Petersburg elected officials were paid less. For example, Tampa pays its mayor $135,012 and its council members $30,742. Starting April 1, 2007, Tampa City Council members will receive $40,250.

The City Council last made a serious push for a salary increase in 2001, touching off a public outcry. More than 100 people flooded City Hall with letters, e-mails and calls, most of them critical. In response, the council rejected the idea.

But members of the council committee said they believe the climate has changed.

"I think the public wants to see their chief executive officer and their council members to have a decent salary," Williams said. "I think that's appropriate."

Council picks new leaders who will take over Jan. 2

The St. Petersburg City Council unanimously chose a new chairman and vice chairman Tuesday. Bill Foster will be chairman and Rene Flowers vice chairwoman. The results won't be official until the council is sworn in Jan. 2.

No other council members were even nominated for the posts. The council elected new leaders without a fuss last year too, a marked contrast to 2003 when it took 49 ballots to elect a leader.

Carrie Johnson can be reached at 727 892-2273 or cjohnson@sptimes.com

[Last modified December 14, 2005, 00:13:09]


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