Four members of Lexington Mayor Jim Gray's staff have received hefty salary increases during the past year, salary data show.
And two more of his nine staff members could get big bumps in pay come July 1.
Salaries for four members of his staff were increased during the past six months, the data show. Including a citywide 3 percent increase that is likely to take effect July 1, one staff member's salary will have increased by $33,000 in a year's time. Increases for three others are likely to range from $14,828 to $23,773.
In Gray's proposed budget — which he unveiled April 7 — raises of more than $20,000 each are proposed for two other staffers. If approved, those increases would take effect July 1.
The request will be discussed at an Urban County Council budget subcommittee meeting Thursday.
Gray and other city officials defended the raises, saying they were a result of his staff moving into different positions with expanded roles. The pay increases were also ways to compensate Gray's staff — some of whom agreed to lower salaries when they joined the administration in 2011 during Gray's first term, when money was tight. Moreover, mayor's office staff are at-will employees and have no job security. City workers covered by union contracts and civil-service employees have job protections.
"Running government efficiently requires talented and committed managers who are compensated appropriately," Gray said in an interview. "One of my first acts as mayor was to reduce my own compensation and keep a lid on compensation in the mayor's office. Over four years, that deserved a new assessment. Some people are doing different jobs or their job descriptions have expanded."
The percentage rate of their raises is higher than that for city firefighters, police officers and most civil-service employees in the past two years, other salary data show.
At most, firefighters received a 7 percent to 9 percent pay increase on July 1, 2014, depending on years of service and rank. On July 1, most will receive raises of a little less than 2 percent, fire officials said.
Police officers received raises last July and will receive raises July 1, but those raises — just like for the fire department — come after years of pay freezes.
City employees not covered by a collective-bargaining agreement received a 2 percent raise July 1, 2014. A 3 percent raise will take effect July 1, if approved by the Urban County Council.
About 500 of the city's 1,500 employees not covered by a collective-bargaining agreement received additional raises this year as part of a citywide effort to bring salaries in line with those in other cities.
Those raises ranged from a few hundred dollars to $14,000, based on a compensation study completed last year. The mayor's office staff was listed in the compensation study, but no raises were recommended, according to a copy of the study obtained by the Herald-Leader.
Jamie Emmons, the mayor's chief of staff, said the mayor's staff did not fill out questionnaires about their job titles or duties for the Management Advisory Group's compensation study.
Civil-service employees did.
After the mayor's staff later filled out those job questionnaires, human resources recommended that three of the four staff members who received raises be moved to different positions with higher pay, Emmons said.
That was done, according to Emmons.
Based on those changes:
■ Lori Houlihan, now director of arts and cultural affairs, could receive a pay bump of more than $33,000 during in a 12-month period, salary data show.
In June 2014, she made $44,323, according to the data. Come July 1, Houlihan is slated to make $77,662, a more than 75 percent increase.
When the city looked at Houlihan's job title versus what she does, it was decided to move her into an open position with higher pay, Emmons said.
■ Susan Straub, Gray's communication director, could see a salary increase of more than $15,000 in a year's time.
Her salary, set at $86,353 in June 2014, is budgeted to go to $102,175 on July 1, an 18 percent increase.
Straub worked for former Mayor Jim Newberry. When Gray took office, Straub agreed to a $4,600 pay cut, Emmons said. But when Straub's salary was compared to similar positions in other cities, she was making less, he said.
"The study illustrated she was earning much less than her peers in similar positions in other public organizations," Emmons said.
■ Wes Holbrook, an aide to the mayor, could see an increase of $14,000. Holbrook, too, has been moved into an expanded role with more responsibilities, Emmons said.
Holbrook's salary was $43,177 in June 2014, according to salary data. His salary July 1 is budgeted to be $66,950, an increase of 55 percent.
■ Maureen Watson, an administrative aide to the mayor, made $62,423 in June 2014. Come July 1, she is slated to make $77,251, a 24 percent raise.
The raises for Gray's staff include two cost-of-living increases for all city employees not covered under a collective-bargaining agreement — a 2 percent pay raise July 1, 2014, and a proposed 3 percent raise to take effect this July 1. The Urban County Council must approve the 3 percent raise as part of the upcoming budget.
The city set aside $3 million in the current year's budget to increase pay as a result of the compensation study.
Emmons said money for raises for the four staffers who received them during the past year was not part of the $3 million. Salary allocated for an unfilled position in the mayor's office was used to cover the raises, he said.
Emmons said it was unfair to compare those salary increases to increases in the compensation study or even salary increases in the collective-bargaining agreement because only Watson received a raise in her current job. The other staffers were moved to different pay grades. Other employees in city government have moved into different positions within government and seen similar raises, Emmons said.
Included in Gray's proposed budget for the upcoming year are raises for two more people on his staff:
■ Brenna Angel, deputy director of communications, could receive a $20,000 increase. That means if the salary increase and 3 percent raise take effect July 1, her salary could increase by 46 percent. Her new salary would be $66,321, according to salary data provided by the city.
■ Scott Shapiro, a senior adviser for Gray, has a $21,919 salary increase in the budget. That's about a 30 percent increase from his salary in June 2014. His new salary would be $112,641 come July 1, if the council approves the raise.
Emmons cautioned that raises in the budget still need to be reviewed by human resources and might change before July 1.
If Angel's and Shapiro's increases are approved, only Emmons and two other staffers will not have received raises beyond the citywide 2 percent and expected 3 percent raises.
Emmons, however, is undergoing the same review process as Angel and Shapiro and could get a raise this year.
Presidents of the city's two largest unions said they couldn't comment on the specifics of salary increases for mayor's office staff but said they hoped no one was getting special treatment.
"I have no issue with making salaries competitive, but that needs to be reflected across the board with bargaining and non-bargaining units," said officer Jason Rothermund, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Bluegrass Lodge No. 4.
Capt. Chris Bartley, president of the Lexington Professional Firefighters IAFF Local 26, agreed.
"I don't have problems with bringing people up to market," said Bartley "But it has to be the same for everyone."
Councilman Kevin Stinnett, chairman of the Budget, Finance and Economic Development Committee, said the salary increases as well as Gray's proposal to add a project manager to his staff will be part of the budget discussions Thursday.
Gray said he thought the raises were justified. Many staffers have worked on projects and issues that have saved the government a lot of money, he said.
"I made compensation decisions in government the same way I did in business," he said. "I believe in paying people what they have earned and what the job requires. And if they don't live up to expectations, then they don't stay in the mayor's office long."