Those whopping Pittsburgh City Council raises

Those whopping Pittsburgh City Council raises

A number of entities appear to have a lot of egg to wipe from their faces. And the longer those who are culpable wait to do so, the more difficult it will be to remove what’s rapidly becoming dried egg.

As first reported by KDKA Radio’s Marty Griffin, the council inserted a 22.2 percent pay raise when it adopted a final 2022 budget in late December.

That took the salaries of the city’s nine councilors from $72,000 annually to $88,000 – a $16,000 annual pay raise in one deft swoop.

While the council has received annual cost-of-living salary increases of 3 percent over the years – the same raise as all city workers — council president Theresa Kail-Smith defended the whopping raises by noting City Council members had not received “significant” raises in 20 years.

And, according to Griffin, after calling out the council members, only Councilman Corey O’Connor has agreed to not accept the raise.

By the way, according to ADP (Automatic Data Processing), the average salary for a resident of Pittsburgh (as of Jan. 20) was $44,613.

These self-dealing raises are not sitting well with everyone from public safety employees paid far, far less to City Controller Michael Lamb.

“What’s most troublesome about this, to me, is that they snuck this into the budget,” Lamb told Griffin. There was no public discussion, he argued.

And, per the city’s home rule charter, Lamb says the council’s raises might be illegal because they exceed the average annual raises of all city employees – about 3 percent.

But Kail-Smith, in a KDKA-TV interview, denies the hefty raises were done “secretively.” She claims “there was ample opportunity” for the public to know. It was adopted in an “open meeting,” the council president says. And it was televised on a local cable access channel.

And here’s an interesting tidbit, unearthed by Eric Montarti, the Allegheny Institute’s research director:

“The legislative record on the budget bill history shows that something happened between the introduction of the bill on Nov. 8 and Dec. 15. When it came out of standing committee, the rate/grade was $83,000. By the 20th, it was $88,000.”

So, what happened there?

Whether the public – and reporters covering the council — realized the pay raise was not 3 percent (as it was presented in the preliminary budget) but 22 percent-plus (in the final version) remains an important question.

If there was no open discussion about it before the final vote on Dec. 20, it would not have been known – unless the media perused the final document. One can only imagine council members channeling their inner Cheshire cat grins realizing the higher raises were sailing through with no media/public scrutiny.

Until Griffin reported the raises – tipped by a source and more than a month later — there had been no reportage on the raise being of that magnitude.

If other reporters weren’t doing their job, then shame of them; a dressing-down is warranted from their editors. And if those editors presumed the budget adoption was pro forma and decided not to cover the meeting, shame on them.

But it could be an indictment of the hollowing out of local news coverage, not just in Pittsburgh but everywhere.

And shame, too, on Kail-Smith and every other member of Pittsburgh City Council for their proverbial getting one over on the public – the public that pays their salaries.

Raises of 22 percent for Pittsburgh City Council are outrageous. And if they are a charter violation, as Controller Lamb proffers, those raises should be considered automatically rescinded.

And even if they are not, the council should do the right thing, scuttle their self-dealing big payday and return to their role as public servants and not the public sucker fish they appear to be.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).