Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Curt Walton's raise: An annual study in tone deafness

Good morning, and welcome to O-pinion, the Observer's home for opinion and discussion on the issues of the day. I’m Peter St. Onge, associate editor of the O's editorial page, and I’ll be your host today.

What are people talking about this morning? The City Council debated City Manager Curt Walton's annual pay Tuesday, deciding ultimately that because the city's economy and budget continue to face harsh challenges, it would be a powerful gesture if Walton received no more of a pay bump than the average city employee.

No, of course not, silly. He got a nice raise.

The council actually considered a range between 1-6 percent, we're told.

He could've received 2 percent, the average that was given to city employees last fiscal year.

He could've received 1 percent, which is what city employees are getting this coming year.

Instead, he got 3 percent, which means that yet again his salary continues to rise at a faster clip than other city employees . And yet again, council members exhibited a remarkable tone deafness with the public and public workforce.

The vote on Walton's salary was 9-1, with Democrat Patsy Kinsey voting no only because she wanted Walton to receive more. Walton's total compensation is $243,654, and council members say they want him to keep pace with other city managers.

Last year, you might remember, Walton's salary was part of a bigger controversy. During a closed session of a council meeting last September, Mayor Anthony Foxx and council members were discussing compensation for Walton and City Attorney Mac McCarley. Foxx had publicly and rightfully frowned on giving Walton a raise or bonus in a difficult budget year, but about halfway through the discussion, he was surprised to learn that he wouldn't get to vote on the matter.

That news came from McCarley, who told Foxx the city charter said the mayor's official responsibilities didn't include voting on those salaries. Problem was, the previous mayor, Pat McCrory, had voted on the city manager's pay at least twice, and Foxx was understandably peeved. But he let the pay increases pass.

This year, the talk went smoothly - perhaps too much so. Walton said his biggest strength in the past year was proposing a revenue-neutral budget, the Observer's Steve Harrison reported. That budget lowered the property tax rate, Harrison writes, but it raised the same amount of revenue as the prior year thanks to the county revaluation of property. Which is great. But it's also, you know, his job.

We don't really blame Walton here. It would be easy to call for him to reject his salary bump - or at least accept the average raise given to others as a gesture to the public and the public workforce. But most of us probably wouldn't do so in his position.

But we're told by someone close to the process that the council doesn't give Walton explicit goals at the beginning of the year that are tied to pay raises, instead just kind of making it up at the end. That means that when it's time for the pay raise to come each year, the council has no precise criteria on which to evaluate Walton, and no good way to explain to the public and other city employees exactly why it is that the city manager is immune once again from the same budget pain so many others are feeling.

Tell us what you think.

Other stuff

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Garth Vader said...

Hey Observer, why not remind us that YOU ENDORSED ALL THESE BOZOS?

Newt said...

2 percent? Every City employee I know got a 1% lump sum payment last fiscal year. Guess the rest was held back for the manager.

sanitizer said...

Just a quarter of a million a year. What a travesty, this man is underpaid, look at all the kickbacks and favors he has to fork over...

Benchmark said...

Do these same people complain/worry about the income gap in the city? I know teachers don't work for the city but maybe the council could just throw them a bone or something... Please? They haven't got a raise in 4 years.

justwantalevelplayingfield said...

Peter, once again thanks for not being afraid to call a spade a spade. In my opinion, everything you say is right-on, except for one minor point:

"We don't really blame Walton here. It would be easy to call for him to reject his salary bump - or at least accept the average raise given to others as a gesture to the public and the public workforce. But most of us probably wouldn't do so in his position." Believe it or not, I sincerely think I WOULD do so if I was already making that kind of salary + benefits. Why do we take it as holy writ that everybody who gets this kind of compensation should utterly lack the kind of ethical compass or simple empathy that'd lead them to make at least a token gesture of "Getting It"?

WHY are Democrats like this one named on City Council (and who's received my loyal votes again & again) acting so much like the very worst example of what we despise about Republicans??

Reggie Mantle said...

I don't recall equal "concern" from the Observer over Harry Jones' pay raise. what could be the difference?

Yet Another Poor Decision said...

Excellent reporting Peter! Kudos to Mayor Foxx and shame on the City Council for giving walton a raise in this terrible economic time. It is laudable to know walton thinks he did a great job in proposing a revenue-neutral budget. By the way, has anyone noticed walton's new property tax rates generally exceed the actualy market values for our properties?

The Observer Editorial Board said...

Hi Reggie,

You may have missed that this year - twice - we called for Harry Jones to be fired.

Here's one: