Assemblyman wants to limit executive employee pay raises

nherz@adn.comJuly 4, 2013 

At its meeting Tuesday, the Anchorage Assembly will consider an ordinance that would limit the salaries of the city's high-ranking, executive employees in same way that union contracts are held down by a measure proposed by the mayor and passed this spring.

The new ordinance, introduced by Assemblyman Dick Traini, would limit pay increases for executive employees to 1 percent above the five-year average of a local consumer price index -- just as the controversial Ordinance 37 did for unionized municipal employees.

"If it's good enough for our union employees, it's good enough for all the rest of our employees," Traini said in a phone interview. "If you're going to make it apply to organized labor, then you can apply it to executive employees too."

The ordinance should come to a vote in Tuesday's meeting, Traini said, and if it passes, he expects Mayor Dan Sullivan to veto it.

"Then, it'll be up to us to override," Traini said. An override vote would require a two-thirds majority of the Assembly's 11 members.

The language in the new ordinance is nearly identical to the language in Ordinance 37, with a few substitutions. Traini's bill refers to "pay range adjustments" for executives, instead of changes to a union's "collective bargaining agreement," for example.

Sullivan, through a spokeswoman, said he does not support the ordinance. His office responded by emailing figures showing that over the last five years, Anchorage's executive employees have received smaller salary increases than many of the city's municipal unions, like police and firefighters.

"Executive employees are not eligible for pay enhancements, longevity/service recognition, performance pay, and in the cases of exempt (majority) status, there is no overtime," Danielle Fegley, the city's director of employee relations, said in an email. And, she added, "There are no step increases -- instead there is a salary band."

Sullivan's 140 executives also took a 5 percent pay cut when he took office, his spokeswoman said. Those cuts, however, were followed by a series of 1.5 percent raises.

Since Ordinance 37 passed, municipal unions have argued that the limitations on pay increases are making it harder for them to attract qualified workers.

Traini's bill will make it similarly difficult for Sullivan's administration to recruit talented executives, said Derek Hsieh, the president of the city's police union.

"I know the city has difficulty matching salaries from skilled labor all the way up through the executive positions," Hsieh said. "And it appears that Assemblyman Traini is trying to impose the same limitations that Ordinance 37 did to skilled labor on executives, to show how unreasonable it is."

Traini's measure is co-sponsored by two other Assembly members, Paul Honeman and Elvi Gray-Jackson.

Another Assembly member, Chris Birch, said he thought that while the ordinance seemed reasonable, he was still unconvinced of its merits.

"My sense of it is that it represents somewhat of an intrusion by the policymaking branch into the executive branch of government," Birch said, adding that he would wait to make a decision on his vote until after hearing public testimony.

Traini also has a second ordinance coming before the Assembly on Tuesday. The ordinance would require prior approval from the Assembly any time the city hires an outside attorney to do more than $10,000 in legal work.

The current threshold for Assembly approval is $30,000, but Traini wants that lowered after the city spent $29,500 on a lawyer to help draft Ordinance 37.

"There's just too much mischief that can occur between $10,000 and $30,000," he said.

Sullivan's office did not respond to specific questions about the second ordinance but his spokeswoman said he opposes it.

Reach Nathaniel Herz at nherz@adn.com or 257-4311.

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