Olympia Council Gets Pay Increase

The city of Olympia’s Salary Commission quietly voted last year to increase the pay of the city’s mayor, mayor, mayor pro-tem, and councilmembers by more than 3 percent and to hike their benefits package.

The new salaries are:

  • Mayor: $27,114.92, with $5,546,78 in benefits. Previous pay was $26,301.78 and $3,807.84 in benefits.
  • Mayor pro-tem (performs the duties as needed): $24,855.17, with $5,546,78 in benefits. Previous pay was $24,109.81 and $3,807.84 in benefits.
  • Councilmembers: $22,595.42, with $5,546,78 in benefits. Previous pay was $21,918.17 and $3,807.84 in benefits.

The benefits portion includes increasing the city-paid amount of medical insurance premiums and 100 percent for dental and vision benefits.

The information on what the Commission is calling cost-of-living increases and the benefits changes publicly appear only in the agenda (Item 5. A) for the July commission meeting, published on the “agendas and minutes” section of the city’s online calendar. In addition, the city did not issue a news release on the pay and benefits changes or publish them on its Salary Commission webpage.

The Commission met four times in June and July. And while the sessions were open to the public, minutes show that only two people, including former City Council Member Karen Messmer, who supported the pay increase, offered comments at the meetings, which also were publicized only on the city’s online calendar. The city did not respond to a question from The Tribune about whether it was satisfied with participation in light of the limited public notification on the meetings.

The council created the Commission in 2017 as allowed by state law. Such commissions are often used (the state also has one, which is widely advertised) when elected officials want to avoid raising their own pay.

The mayor appoints, and the council approves, the five commission members. The 2021 members were former council member and current state House member Jessica Bateman, who chaired the Commission, Lela Cross, Jim Randall, Joyce Turner, and Tadeu Velloso.

Information on the commission webpage does not specify the criteria used to select the members or give any biographical data on the commissioners. The ordinance states only that they have to be a U.S. citizen, a city resident for at least one year, a registered voter, and not an “officer, official, or employee of the City or any of their immediate family members.” 

The increase was much less than the one the Commission granted in 2017 when it gave council members, the mayor, and the mayor pro-tem a 25 percent pay increase, the first since 2008. 

Council members often find themselves working many hours a week to prepare for and attend multiple council and council committee meetings, to serve on regional boards, and to hear from constituents, in addition to any full- or part-time employment they may have.

The city has 600 employees and a 2022 council-approved operating budget of $177 million. Under its council-manager form of government, the council delegates day-to-day authority for city operations to the city manager. Jay Burney has been in that position since May 2020 and earns nearly $197,000 per year, plus benefits. The city did not respond to a question from The Tribune about whether his performance evaluation in January resulted in a raise. That evaluation was done in an executive session of the council, meaning that it was not open for the public to observe. The minutes from that meeting say only that it occurred and that no action was taken.

By Mindy Chambers

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