Tensions over a proposal to raise Lexington's minimum wage flared Thursday night after Vice Mayor Steve Kay tried to set an April meeting to hear more testimony on the issue.
During a budget committee meeting Tuesday, the council began discussions on a proposal to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour over three years. The committee took no action, and 19 people had signed up to testify but could not because of time constraints.
During Thursday night's council meeting, Kay proposed calling a special council meeting for 5 p.m. April 20 so the council could hear testimony from those who did not get to speak Tuesday. Kay has said he supports a minimum wage increase.
Kay's decision to set the April 20 meeting date sparked debate.
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"I think you're making a mistake as a leader," said Councilman Bill Farmer. "You are inserting yourself into the process."
Kay denied he was trying to usurp the process; rather, he said, he was trying to give people who wanted to speak an opportunity to testify before the council before late June.
The budget committee does not meet in April or May while the council debates the city's budget. Its next meeting is not scheduled until June 23.
"This is in interest of moving this forward," Kay said.
After Tuesday's committee meeting, Councilwoman Jennifer Mossotti had pushed the council to set an additional meeting date to discuss the minimum wage issue before the June 23 meeting, but those efforts failed. Mossotti is sponsoring the minimum wage ordinance.
Some council members said Thursday that Kay should have asked council members if they could attend the April 20 meeting before setting the date. Ultimately, the council voted 9-3 to cancel the April 20 meeting. Those who voted against the cancellation were Kay, Angela Evans and Jake Gibbs. Voting in favor were Farmer, Fred Brown, Richard Moloney, Kevin Stinnett, Peggy Henson, Ed Lane, Shevawn Akers, Amanda Bledsoe and Susan Lamb. Mossotti was absent when the vote was taken.
Stinnett said he is considering holding a special budget committee hearing sometime in early June. But Mossotti has said delaying action until June would mean a proposed increase in the minimum wage to $8.20 an hour by July 1 would not be possible. Mossotti said earlier this week that she was considering how to amend the ordinance if the council drags its feet.
The ordinance would increase the minimum wage from the current federal minimum of $7.25 an hour to $8.20 an hour on July 1; $9.15 an hour on July 1, 2016; and $10.10 an hour on July 1, 2017. After 2017, the increase would be tied to the consumer price index. The current proposal also includes an increase in the minimum wage for tipped employees.