By MICHAEL WHITNEY
Published October 13, 2021
Snohomish mayoral salary talks halted by impasse
SNOHOMISH — A discussion on changing the mayor’s salary died last week because of a split-up among council members on how to proceed with adjusting it.
Two approaches exist: Either that City Council members take a vote, or that a separate salary commission makes a unilateral decision.
Two camps exist, too: Some council members object to a salary commission deciding how to spend city dollars, while other council members say an independent body assures personal politics would not influence deciding the mayor’s salary.
City administrator Steve Schuller sought direction at the meeting, but council didn’t give a uniform answer. Salary talks won’t reappear before the City Council unless council resurrects it, Schuller indicated near the end of the council discussion.
The Snohomish Council has two regularly scheduled meetings to go before the Nov. 2 election results are released. The original plan was to wrap up the salary decision before the election.
Snohomish’s mayor currently gets paid $18,000 a year ($1,500 a month) for what was classified by council as a part-time job. The council set this salary in 2017 prior to that election.
Incumbent Mayor John Kartak is facing City Council President Linda Redmon for the position.
In the city quarterly magazine, Kartak wrote a commentary criticizing the salary level, writing in his Mayor’s Message column that as part of a smooth transition, he promised the public that “regardless of the unnecessarily low, part-time salary, I would work full-time. This has been a difficult sacrifice for my family, but running your City should not be treated as a secondary hobby.”
That written commentary in May sparked a council discussion about the mayor’s salary.
The two camps within council haven’t shifted since that conversation in May.
Councilman Tom Merrill, for example, is dead against letting a volunteer salary commission decide how much public money to spend without being accountable to City Council members. Councilwomen Judith Kuleta and Donna Ray agreed last week.
Councilman Steve Dana reiterated his position that a salary commission keeps politics out of the decision.
Councilman Felix Neals said an external body is wise for deciding compensation. “It’s a lot more complicated than you think,” said Neals, who is a human resources management executive.
Neither Kartak nor Redmon gave opinions on the issue.
A salary commission, as an independent deciding body of residents, would have its members appointed by the mayor. Those appointments are ratified by council.
Kuleta said she’s concerned the volunteers selected for a salary commission might end up being partisan.
With a salary commission, its decision is final. If people want the decision overturned, it requires a voter referendum, city attorney Emily Guildner explained.
Both Everett and Monroe utilize salary commissions that convene every few years. Salary commissioners in both cities most recently decided to not increase mayor or council pay rates during the pandemic.
Snohomish is not looking to adjust council pay rates, just the mayor’s.
The council widely said in May they do not need their pay altered.
City Council members are paid $6,156 annually. They last voted for a pay increase for themselves in fall 2014.
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