Some Langley council members hope to see smaller pay package for mayor

LANGLEY — The debate over the size of the mayor’s pay is coming down to a battle between here and there.

The Langley City Council is expected to vote on a new ordinance Monday to set the pay for the city’s next mayor.

And while most council members hinted at their last meeting that they wanted to keep the mayor’s salary near its present level — at $53,532, an eye-popping amount for small cities across Washington — others on the council are wondering if the city is being too generous with its top executive.

But how much is enough? The two councilmen who say less may be best weren’t ready to say exactly what the mayor’s job should pay when the doors of city hall are unlocked on Jan. 1, 2012.

Even so, Councilman Hal Seligson and Councilman Robert Gilman said they wanted to vote for a mayor’s salary that was smaller than the current package.

“Basically, I think I’m leaning toward a reasonable compromise,” Seligson said.

Seligson said he was considering a mayor’s salary somewhere between the bookends of $21,000, the amount the job paid when Neil Colburn left office as mayor, and the $53,532 level approved by the council last year — the fifth time the council has adjusted the mayor’s compensation package since October 2008.

“There is probably some reasonable ground between those two that would allow a compensation package that would be relevant to the job, and relevant to the economy of South Whidbey,” Seligson said.

At the council’s last meeting, some on the council suggested the mayor should be paid as much as the department heads he supervises.

That idea appears to have traction with some council members, and Councilman Bob Waterman distributed a list to his fellow council members on Wednesday that detailed how much the city’s top employees were making on a monthly basis. According to that list, Mayor Paul Samuelson would need nearly a $1,500-a-month raise to earn more than the city’s most veteran employee.

Seligson said the amount that Langley is paying its department heads shouldn’t be a driving factor in the decision.

“It’s obviously not the same thing,” he said.

“I think they may be a contributing factor, but what a subordinate makes doesn’t really in my view drive what a supervisor makes, especially in the political arena where it’s a different relationship than it is in a corporate setting or a private company setting,” Seligson said.

“I know of circumstances in the private sector where the owner of a company paid himself less than he paid his top salesperson,” he added.

Seligson said many elected officials are motivated by public service, and not the possibility of personal enrichment, and it’s something he’s seen in Langley.

“I think Langley’s got a tradition of people who volunteer or work for minimal compensation, and I think that’s a valid tradition and something everyone here should take pride in,” he said.

When the city council approved the move to more than double the mayor’s salary in 2008, city council members used the monthly pay for a city department head to determine how much the mayor should be paid.

Last year’s dispute over whether or not the mayor should be paid for vacation time, however, spurred intense scrutiny of how much Samuelson was earning every year.

Newspaper stories contrasted Samuelson’s salary with those paid to other mayors in cities and towns across Washington, with the revelation that not only was Samuelson making more than mayors of towns close to Langley’s size, but he was actually one of the best paid mayors in the state.

Samuelson’s current base pay puts him at number 24 on the list of best-paid mayors in more than 250 cities in Washington, and in terms of population and the per-capita cost of the mayor’s job, Samuelson makes more than any other mayor in the state.

Gilman said additional research has shown that most small cities in Washington pay their mayors less than $18,000.

Setting the salary below $18,000, with no benefits, should be considered, he said.

“At this point my sense is the better policy direction is to do what the vast majority of other small cities in Washington have done,” Gilman said.

Gilman also noted he doesn’t support setting the mayor’s salary near the level of the workers who are under the mayor’s supervision.

“I understand the sentiment in that argument. I also noticed that that’s not the approach taken by the vast majority of other small cities,” he said.

The latest revisions of the mayor’s pay package have been on a fast track in the Village by the Sea.

Council members have said they want to adopt the pay level for the mayor who will take over in January before the close of the candidate filing period next week, so people interested in running for mayor will know exactly how much the job pays.

Under the current pay structure, the pay level will automatically drop down to $21,000 at the start of

2012 unless the council approves changes to the salary.

Seligson said he welcomes any additional input from residents who have opinions on what the mayor’s job should pay — at or before Monday’s council meeting.

“I’m hoping that a lot of Langley citizens — who are in fact the ones who are going to be paying the property taxes and other fees to support this salary of whatever amount it is — will show up and feel free to voice their opinion,” he said.

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