‘Making us all look stupid,’ Charlotte city council member says of pay raise debate

Braxton Winston talks pay raises for City Council

Charlotte City Council members talk about pay raises for elected officials and reduction in proposed spending for officer training.
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Charlotte City Council members talk about pay raises for elected officials and reduction in proposed spending for officer training.

A short-lived suggestion to raise the pay for Charlotte City Council members drew a fiery response from council member Tariq Bokhari on Thursday.

“My last straw was really yesterday,” Bokhari said, referencing council member Braxton Winston’s proposal from Wednesday that Charlotte City Council members and the mayor see a salary increase to match what Mecklenburg County Commissioners make.

“That’s not how the majority of us are thinking,” Bokhari said, adding that he felt the idea was “making us all look stupid.”

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Bokhari on Thursday said he was further angered by a news report which said council members were considering cutting funding from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s training budget to free-up money for council raises over the next year.

As the Observer reported Thursday morning, Winston had not suggested that the council reallocate police funds for council raises. Instead, Winston’s comment was that the money for raises could come from an $85,000 “contingency fund” already set aside in next year’s budget for unexpected costs.

At the end of Thursday’s budget discussion, council members voted to keep police training funds intact and Winston was the sole person to vote “yes” on raising City Council salaries.

Police funding debate

Reference to police funding first came during Wednesday’s budget meeting when council member LaWana Mayfield said a $2 million proposed allocation for officer training should be reduced to $1 million.

“Why $2 million? We have some other pressing needs,” Mayfield said. Later, she added that she had issues with CMPD’s implementation and enforcement of its training for police officers.

Of the $1 million proposed cut from police training funds, Mayfield initially said $250,000 should go toward neighborhood development and community engagement in District 3, which she represents. She then asked the city’s budget director whether the council could fund Winston’s idea for pay raises via the remaining money left by the cut.

The idea, though, dissipated quickly on Wednesday when city Budget Director Phil Reiger said money for prospective raises would need to come from elsewhere in the budget. That’s because the police training money proposed for next year is considered a one-time expense, not a recurring expense like payroll.

On Thursday, several council members said they would oppose any cuts to the police department’s budget, especially money for training officers requested by CMPD Chief Kerr Putney.

“This is a really bad time not to be giving the chief what he says he needs to do his job,” said council member Ed Driggs.

Winston: ‘Ridiculous’ motion

Controversy over talks of cutting police spending and Winston’s suggestion of raising City Council pay nearly derailed Thursday’s budget meeting.

Minutes after Mayor Vi Lyles opened the meeting, Bokhari said he wanted to end debate over what to add or delete in the proposed budget and hold a vote, “rather than just go down a path of ... making a challenging situation.”

But Bokhari’s motion drew sharp criticism from Winston and others who said they strongly opposed curtailing debate over the city’s $2.6 billion budget.

Winston said to Bokhari: “That is one of the most ridiculous motions I’ve ever heard. It doesn’t make any sense.” He went on to say not holding debate would be an “abdication of your primary duty as a council member ... to approve and scrutinize the budget.”

“I can’t believe we’re spending the first 35 minutes of this important session discussing whether or not we want to do our job,” Winston said.

Winston on Thursday defended his suggestion of council raises, saying the annual budget meetings are the best time to debate such an idea.

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The proposed pay raises for City Council and mayor would have required an additional $112,031 in the budget every year, according to a presentation from city staff members.

City Council members earn $19,809 in salary, in addition to an auto allowance of $4,000 and council members are allowed up to $5,800 for expenses. The mayor’s annual pay is $25,636, with expenses totaling $14,800.

County commissioners make $28,336 in addition to allowances for car, expenses and technology — an extra $17,656, according to WBTV.

Both city and county representatives are part-time positions.

Under a proposed Mecklenburg County spending plan for the next year, elected commissioners would also see a 5.5% raise in pay, the same as county employees. The highest-earning employees with the city of Charlotte could also see a 3% raise, for which City Council members would also be eligible, Mayor Vi Lyles said Wednesday. (The city’s budget for next year also allows for lower-paid, hourly workers with the city to get a pay increase of around 6 percent).

A final vote on the city’s budget is scheduled for June 10.