Begging for a boost: Sacramento City Council gets pay raise after one member complains about compensation

Mayor, council members among the highest paid compared to eight other ‘benchmark’ cities

Regular Sacramento residents aren’t the only ones complaining about getting priced out of the capital by the falling dominoes of arena development. At least one city council member thinks he can barely afford a “nice, middle-class” life, too—though it’s unclear who he is.

The issue came to light at the August 29 meeting of the council’s Compensation Commission, which granted a $2,500-a-year salary increase to Mayor Kevin Johnson and an annual $1,300 raise to his eight council colleagues.

Sacramento already boasts one of the highest compensated elected bodies among comparable, or “benchmark,” cities, though there is a large disparity between what the mayor makes compared to council members.

According to a city staff report, prior to last week’s vote, council members earned $65,772 annually, with $6,000 in allowances, which put them at a higher rate of pay than counterparts in six of eight benchmark cities deemed similar to Sacramento. Only council members in San Jose and Austin, Texas, made more. The mayor, meanwhile, earned $125,218 a year plus $9,200 in annual allowances, second only to Long Beach on the benchmark list.

“We’re kind of on the high end of the mayor’s salary,” said commissioner Howard Posner. Later, he appeared to rethink those comments, telling fellow commissioners, “I don’t want the mayor to think we’re singling him out.”

The other benchmark cities include Stockton, Riverside, Aurora, Colo., Kansas City, Mo., and Cincinnati, Ohio.

Asked by commissioner Evelyn Chin how increasing elected officials’ salaries would impact the city budget, Assistant City Manager Howard Chan indicated it wouldn’t be that big of a deal.

“We certainty aren’t facing the deficit we faced in years past,” Chan noted.

Not one member of the public addressed the commission last Monday. At the meeting, Posner revealed that it was a male council member who expressed the opinion that he was receiving a part-time salary for full-time work, and hinted at the need for a raise.

“I had a discussion a few months ago with one of the members of the council … and his contention was that [council members] have to have some other source of income to have a nice, middle-class style of living,” Posner recalled. “He thought you would get better governance if the council could devote themselves full-time to their duties, and that would only happen if the salary was commensurate.”

Posner declined to identify the council member, though he acknowledged his pronoun choice revealed that it wasn’t Angelique Ashby, the only woman on the council.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the city’s median household income was $50,013 in 2014 dollars.

In Sacramento, elected officials get the same paycheck regardless of how spotty their attendance is at meetings. This year, Johnson was a no-show at 16 council meetings and left early during 16 more, the Sacramento Bee reported last week.

An SN&R examination of public attendance records shows Johnson’s penchant for mid-meeting evaporation was nearly matched by District 2 Councilman Allen Warren, who’s ducked out of 12 council meetings this year and was absent from another four. That gives Warren twice as many duck-outs as the next-worst offender, District 6 Councilman Steven Hansen.

In a previous interview, Warren claimed he donated his city council pay to charity. “I give my council salary away. I don’t do this for profit,” Warren told SN&R earlier this summer. “I donate money to kids going to college, I give to this program or that program.”

SN&R couldn’t independently verify the claim. But, if true, local charities should expect a bigger lump of change next year.