Members of an Urban County Council budget subcommittee want additional information on why four members of Mayor Jim Gray's staff received substantial raises over the past year and justification for raises for two other staffers that are included in the upcoming budget.
Council member Jennifer Scutchfield, who chairs the budget subcommittee that reviews the budget request for Gray's office, made the request at a meeting Thursday. She asked the mayor's staff to provide the subcommittee with all information used to determine the raises.
The subcommittee will recommend to the full council by the end of May whether to fund the raises for two employees that are included in Gray's $323 million budget proposal. His budget request includes more than $40,000 for raises for the two employees — or about $20,000 each.
The council has already approved raises for four staffers; some of those raises have topped $15,000.
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Gray and Jamie Emmons, his chief of staff, have defended the raises, saying mayor's office staff are at-will employees and have no job protections, unlike civil service employees. In order to keep good people, the city needs to compete with the private sector, they said.
During the budget subcommittee meeting, council members questioned why some of the staffers got the raises. Emmons said three of the four employees who have received pay raises were moved into different positions with expanded roles. Only one of the four received a raise without a change in job or responsibilities.
Emmons said the mayor's office filled out questionnaires about the staff's job duties and tasks. Some salaries then were raised to make them comparable to similar jobs in other cities, he said.
Emmons said the two $20,000 raises in Gray's proposed budget might be changed. Those two employees still are going through the job questionnaire process, he said.
Kevin Stinnett, who has been on the council for more than a decade, said he had never questioned mayoral hires or how much mayors pay staff. That's up to the mayor. But some of the raises were substantial, he said.
"You have staff people who are making more than two commissioners," Stinnett said. "And that doesn't look right."
He said some commissioners supervise hundreds of employees. Few in the mayor's office have that type of oversight.
Scutchfield said she's concerned about the perception. A recent compensation study of civil service employees recommended raises for 500 workers. The highest raise in that study was a little more than $14,000.
"That's a small sum compared to some of these raises," Scutchfield said. "If you look at it on its face, it's hard to digest."
But Emmons said many of the people on Gray's staff were hired in 2011, during Gray's first term, when money was tight. They took substantial pay cuts to work for government.
"Some of these people came in, way underpaid for the experience they had," Emmons said.
The council typically passes a budget by the end of June.