Just one day after the city council adopted a $15 minimum wage proposal for Seattle's lowest paid workers, the council's education and governance committee adopted legislation this morning increasing the salary of the city of Seattle's highest paid worker, City Light CEO Jorge Carrasco. Carrasco, appointed by Mayor Greg Nickels in 2004, is already the highest-paid city employee with a base salary of around $250,000.
Currently, Carrasco's salary is at the top of his "pay band"—a range of possible salaries for a city position; the legislation the committee passed today establishes a new pay band with a top level of $174.56 an hour, or around $363,000 a year. Jeff Reading, communications director for Mayor Ed Murray, says Carrasco is "expected" to make around $305,000, although the final salary is up to the council and mayor.
City personnel department staffers told the committee that Carrasco's current salary is low compared to directors at other public utilities, and that a raise would make him more likely to stick around (and would make the job more appealing to future candidates if Carrasco leaves the position). Nationally, the staffers said, the average salary for a utility boss is around $367,000.
"Relative to other utilities both around the region and around the country, Jorge has been underpaid compared to what his job is and what he could be paid," Mayor Ed Murray's chief of staff, Chris Gregorich, said. "We want to make sure that we maintain a higher level of leadership for Seattle City Light."
Committee chair Kshama Sawant, a socialist and catalyst for the $15 movement, who has pledged to donate about two-thirds of her own salary to worker-friendly causes , was, unsurprisingly, skeptical. "I don't think, respectfully, that anybody being paid $250,000 would be considered underpaid by any measure," she said. "This is a city government, not a private corporation."
The legislation would make Carrasco's pay increase retroactive to January of this year. Meanwhile, the 100,000 or so workers in the city who make less than $15 an hour will have to wait years to reach $15.
Murray signed an executive order earlier this year vowing to increase all city employees to $15 an hour. Although he talked at the time about making the raise retroactive to the beginning of 2014, his office now says city workers will be on the same phased-in schedule as all employees of large companies, reaching $15 in 2017 if they don't receive health care, and in 2018 if they do.
After Sawant pointed out this discrepancy, saying, "I wonder how people would feel that the lowest paid workers who are going to go up to $15 are going to be phased in while the CEO is going to be retroactively given a $100,000 pay increase"—Sally Bagshaw proposed an amendment that would have made Carrasco's raise effective in July, not January. That failed, with Sawant and Bagshaw voting for it, and Tim Burgess and Sally Clark voting against.
At the same meeting, the committee voted to increase the pay of the incoming police chief, Kathleen O'Toole, from the current police chief's salary of $215,000 to $250,000, and to give her up to $40,000 in expenses to move to Seattle from Boston. The city council's public safety committee will hold its first confirmation hearing for O'Toole, the former Boston police commissioner, this afternoon.
About 60 city employees make more than $150,000 a year, most of them in police, fire, and City Light. Sawant estimates that if city pay was capped at $150,000, the city would save more than $1 million a year.