Compensation commission prepares to talk turkey

By J. PATRICK PEPPER
Times-Herald Newspapers

 

DEARBORN — When it comes to the taxpayer dollar, elected officials are at the helm of distribution. They decide where money goes, what’s a worthy cause and how much is allotted.

 

However, one area long thought by some as in need of an outside opinion is just how much taxpayer money legislators get to keep for themselves. It’s a timeless question that will face the city’s Local Officials Compensation Commission as it meets over the coming weeks.

 

Charged with crafting recommendations on how much the mayor, City Council, and clerk should be compensated, the biennial commission meetings usually start in January or February, but three vacancies on the seven-member board have pushed that date back.

 

Mayor John O’Reilly Jr. on Tuesday brought forth three nominees for the positions at a council study session: Gary Stanford, John Tobin and John Adams. The council will vote on the nominees at their regular Monday meeting, and pending acceptance, the commission finally can get to work.

 

Once the commission convenes, it has 45 days to submit its recommendations to the council, which then votes on them.

 

The votes aren’t as predictable as one might think, either. Breaking from conventional wisdom, the council voted down a pay increase in 2003 to help alleviate a budget deficit after approving increases in 1999 and 2001. The past two meetings of the commission have resulted in no recommendations in either direction.

 

In the past, commissioners have divided into work groups, with each focusing on one of the three elective positions.

 

The most important factor for coming up with the recommendations, said Commissioner Cynthia Pepper, is determining what the market rate for each position is. Using benchmarks such as elected officials’ pay in comparable U.S. cities, executive pay in the private sector and future budget forecasts, the commission must compile those unrelated factors into tailor-made dollar amounts for the city.

 

“There is just a ton of stuff that goes into it with the data review,” said Pepper, a human resources professional. “But the interesting thing about it is that it’s kind of an art, too, because not only are you looking at all this data but you’re also asking, ‘How do we make this fit our situation?’”

 

With state legislators passing a 10 percent pay cut for themselves last week and the city facing plummeting tax revenues, indicators suggest the commission meeting could mark the first time a decrease is recommended – something not lost on O’Reilly.

 

“In this economic environment, it will definitely be interesting to see what they determine,” said O’Reilly whose $131,133 salary will be under review.