Ah, to have a boss like the Charlotte City Council, ever eager to jack up our pay.
City Manager Curt Walton enjoys that good fortune. Economy in the dumps? Taxes going up? Rank-and-file workers’ pay flat? No matter. Walton floats along, the City Council bestowing sizable raises on him year after year while the people who make the city run get next to nothing.
Raise your hand if you make 14 percent more than you did three years ago. If your hand is up, you are almost certainly not a city employee. In the past three years, they’ve gone two years with no salary raise and saw their retirement match eliminated one year. They will receive a one-time 1 percent lump-sum payment this year.
Things are different up on Walton’s throne. He has seen his total compensation jump from $226,000 in 2009 to just shy of $258,000 today, a 14 percent cumulative raise. Tuesday night, the City Council voted 8-3 to give Walton a 6 percent hike. Democrat Michael Barnes and Republicans Warren Cooksey and Andy Dulin voted against. The other eight Democrats voted in favor. This after Walton’s signature effort of the past year, a poorly defended $926 million capital plan, was rejected last month.
Back when we were in school, graduating students had to make a choice:
Go into business to try to make a lot of money, or go into government or nonprofits if you wanted to serve. Not here. A number of executives in public or quasi-public jobs – including Mecklenburg County Manager Harry Jones and the CRVA’s Tom Murray – make in the very high $200s.
Walton’s not getting filthy rich in his office at the top of the Government Center. He’s even making less than some of his peers locally. But he and the council seem blissfully unaware of the bad optics of taking a 6 percent raise when the employees on whose backs his success is built get zero.
Surely, there’s an explanation.
Here’s City Council member Claire Fallon’s: “He’s running a billion-dollar business,” Fallon told Observer reporter Steve Harrison. “If he was in private industry he would be making $8 million a year plus stock options.”
No, Ms. Fallon, he’s not. He’s running a city government, funded by taxpayers, making no profit. When he joined the public sector, he understood, even if you don’t, that public-private pay comparisons mean almost nothing.
A better explanation would be that Walton is significantly underpaid compared with his peers. Council members reportedly reviewed a salary comparison of other city managers. Harrison asked for that information but, lo and behold, the city said it couldn’t locate it.
Absent that, we did our own research. It’s easy to pick and choose comparisons to fit your argument. We found that Walton makes less than some of his peers in comparable cities and more than others.
If Walton can land a big raise, who can blame him for trying? It’s his bosses, the City Council members, who are disrespecting other city workers and taxpayers in still-hard times.