Mayor Ed Murray raised some eyebrows when he announced the salaries for some of his new executive staff. He’s paying two deputy mayors and a policy and innovation director $170,000 each annually, and a communications director $140,000.
That’s about a third more than former Mayor Mike McGinn paid for comparable positions at the start of his administration in 2010. McGinn’s highest paid deputies started at $125,000 a year. His first communications director made $95,000.
Observers note McGinn took office in the midst of a recession and faced a $63 million budget shortfall.
His staff also was criticized in the early years for lacking experience in government and management. His deputy mayor had been a real-estate agent when he took the city job. His spokesman had been a receptionist at a radiology clinic.
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Murray said he sought a depth of experience in key positions.
“I believe people should be paid what they’re worth for their skills. I think I’ve set a pretty high standard. Some could easily work in the private or nonprofit sectors earning more and some have taken a pay cut to come here,” Murray said.
One of Murray’s deputy mayors, Andrea Riniker, who is serving on an interim basis, has about 30 years of experience in government, including as a director of the Port of Tacoma and city manager of Bellevue. Murray’s Office of Policy and Innovation director, Robert Feldstein, previously held a similar position for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Though better paid, Murray’s staff is smaller than both McGinn’s and Mayor Greg Nickels’. Murray has 20 people in the executive office and another seven in the Office of Policy and Innovation. McGinn had 31 staffers. Nickels had the largest staff, 26 in the mayor’s office and 18 more in the Office of Policy and Management.
In 2009, the City Council cut the budget for the Office of Policy and Management, but restored some of the funding for 2014 when Murray took office.
While Murray’s salaries are generally higher than McGinn’s, they are somewhat lower than in King County government and the cities of Bellevue, Portland and San Francisco, which were used to establish comparables for Murray’s staff, said Dwight Dively, King County budget director who headed Murray’s transition team.
King County Executive Dow Constantine, for example, earns $216,000 a year, while his deputy, Fred Jarrett, makes $195,000. Murray makes $180,000; McGinn made $170,000.
Murray’s staff salaries also are comparable to those of former Mayor Greg Nickels, who served for eight years and left office in 2009. Nickels paid his deputy mayor, Tim Ceis, $187,000 in his final year while the mayor made $167,000. His communications director, Robert Mak, made $160,000, though that salary drew howls when Mak, a former television journalist, was hired in 2008.
Dively said the differences in compensation reflect the different philosophies about what it takes to run a large, complex organization. The city has 11,000 employees and 27 departments.
“Mayor McGinn had more staff and paid them less. Generally they had less experience, especially managerial experience. Mayor Murray wanted to emphasize hiring more experienced staff in key positions, which inevitably requires higher salaries,” Dively said.
Dively had been Seattle budget director under Nickels but wasn’t kept on by McGinn, who hired Beth Goldberg from King County to run the city’s finance department. Goldberg made $137,000 working for McGinn. Dively was paid $163,000 for Nickels and now makes $195,000 for the county.
People doing business with the city generally praise Murray’s new staff.
“I support the notion that you pay well for experienced, qualified people,” said David Freiboth, executive secretary of the King County Labor Council, who has worked with the past three mayors. “It’s very promising that [Murray’s transition team] spent the time and resources to find people with what appears to be the experience to do the job.”
City Councilmember Tim Burgess praised Murray’s hires and repeated the adage that you get what you pay for.
“The mayor has hired excellent people He hired people with experience in government. He hired people who aren’t learning on the job and it shows.”
Former McGinn staffers dispute the notion that they were inexperienced.
Matt Fikse-Verkerk, who worked as McGinn’s special-projects director for two years, was a former nonprofit director and CEO. He said that just as Murray has hired a number of people from Olympia, where Murray was a legislator for 18 years, McGinn hired activists from his own work as a Sierra Club officer and transit advocate.
“Each executive arrives with his own vision of the crew needed to do the job. What a staff member used to do has less to do with their city job than their inherent skills and capabilities.”
Darryl Smith, former deputy mayor under McGinn, was a real-estate agent before joining the executive team. He also was a former president of the Rainier Valley Chamber of Commerce and a chairman of the Columbia City Revitalization Committee. In the mayor’s office, he was credited for his outreach work to ethnic and minority communities, key supporters of McGinn.
“We had some incredibly talented people who saw the value in working for government. No one was complaining that we weren’t making enough. We came in with a serious budget deficit and were committed to providing good service to the people of Seattle,” said Smith.
Smith acknowledged that the $170,000 being paid the new deputy mayors (he made $130,000 in his last year), did catch his attention.
Still, he said, he left a message on his City Hall whiteboard for incoming Deputy Mayor Hyeok Kim, who previously ran a community-development organization in the Chinatown/International District.
“I wished her well. I hope she does a good job for the city,” Smith said.
News researcher Gene Balk contributed to this report.
Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @lthompsontimes