The Baton Rouge Metro Council is still trying to decide how much to pay the next mayor-president, and at least one councilman thinks the starting salary should be more than doubled.
Councilman Joel Boé said he is proposing the new East Baton Rouge Parish mayor-president earn a salary of $225,000 per year for the four-year term. Mayor-President Kip Holden earns a salary of $152,317, but he’s held office for 11 years and is in his third term. The starting mayoral salary is $106,923, where it’s been since 1999.
“The point is, if we’re going to pay middle management salaries for a mayor, we’re going to get middle management applicants,” Boé said. “I want to make sure this parish has executive-level leadership going into the future, and bringing someone in from outside, in the private sector with a competitive salary, does a lot to benefit the future of the city-parish.”
The next mayor-president will be elected in fall 2016. Even if Holden — who is term limited and cannot run again — wins his bid for lieutenant governor, a new parish leader wouldn’t be elected until then, taking office in January 2017. The council has the authority to appoint a temporary mayor if the vacancy lasts less than a year.
Boé stressed that despite some speculation through the years, he is not interested in running for mayor-president.
In coming up with the $225,000 figure, Boé said he considered inflation, comparable mayor salaries from other cities and the salaries of East Baton Rouge Parish’s top elected leaders and agency heads before arriving at his recommendation. He also wants to change the mayor-president’s lofty vacation and leave policy and apply those savings toward the salary.
He calculated that if a 3 percent inflation rate was applied to the starting salary in 1999, it would be $182,029 by 2017, the first year the new mayor-president would take office.
He also pointed out that the mayor-president doesn’t make the top 10 list of the highest earning public officials in the parish. The top earner was East Baton Rouge Parish School Superintendent Warren Drake, who earns $235,000 a year, followed by Coroner Beau Clark, who earns $200,000 annually. The list includes Bob Mirabito, who runs the Capital Area Transit System and earns $175,000 a year, and both the Baton Rouge Fire Chief Ed Smith and the Police Chief Carl Dabadie Jr., who earn $161,752 and $159,640 respectively.
Rounding out the top 10 list was BREC Superintendent Carolyn McKnight with a salary of $157,000.
Boé also pointed out that the mayor-president holds the dual role of both president of the parish and mayor of Baton Rouge. He provided some examples of other cities where tax payers fund two separate salaries for these positions. For example in Birmingham, Alabama, the mayor earns $128,000 a year, and the county executive, which would be equivalent to a parish president, earned $224,000. In Little Rock, Arkansas, the mayor earns $160,000 a year and the county executive earns $95,000 a year.
He also took issue with the fact that the mayor-president enjoys the same payouts for unused vacation and sick leave as other employees. They have traditionally received payouts for every day of leave they accrue up to the cap of 1,920 hours.
Holden has accrued 744 hours of unused vacation and 1,185.54 hours of unused sick leave, which exceeds the 1,920 hour cap. At the end of his term he is expected to receive a payment of $141,926.
Boé said he’d prefer to see those dollars — which equal about $11,800 spread out over 12 years — applied toward a salary. He said he plans to sponsor a companion ordinance that would change the future mayor-president’s leave policy so it has to be documented and it wouldn’t roll over infinitely.
Holden did not respond to a request for comment about whether he thought the salary and benefits changes are necessary.
Boé’s proposal, which could come up at the council’s meeting Tuesday, is a significant increase from the initial proposal in September from Council Administrator Casey Cashio. Cashio recommended increasing the starting salary to $157,000 for the full term instead of increasing it on a yearly basis.
Some council members expressed resistance to the idea of raising the mayor’s salary so substantially amid a lingering battle with lower-paid employees to provide substantive raises.
Councilwoman Tara Wicker said she agrees that the mayor-president needs to be paid competitively, but was concerned about the rest of the employees who were given a 2 percent raise this past year while expecting more.
“We still know that we have city parish employees who are still highly underpaid,” she said. “Case in point is our (public works) workers.”
Follow Rebekah Allen on Twitter, @rebekahallen. For more coverage of city-parish government, follow City Hall Buzz blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/city hallbuzz/.
Editor’s note: The headline for the online version of this article was changed on Tuesday, Nov. 10, to reflect that a proposed pay raise for the office of mayor-president would affect the next person elected to the position, not incumbent Mayor-President Kip Holden, who is serving his last term.