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Council pay raises spark controversy

(Published March 8, 1999)

Automatic pay hikes for newly elected and re-elected D.C. City Council members took effect Jan. 3 without public discussion or vote. Three council members waived the raise; four accepted it.

Chairman Linda Cropp, D-At large, now earns $102,530, up 13 percent. David Catania, R-At-large, Jim Graham, D-Ward 1, and Vincent Orange, D-Ward 5, now earn $92,530, up 15 percent. Sharon Ambrose, 6-Ward 6, Kathy Patterson, D-Ward 3, and Phil Mendelson, D-At large, also were eligible for the raise but waived it. Their salaries remain at $80,605 along with council members Kevin Chavous, D-Ward 7; Sandra Allen, D-Ward 8; Carol Schwartz, R-At large; Jack Evans, D-Ward 2; and Charlene Drew Jarvis, D-Ward 4.

The chairman is prohibited by law from holding other employment. All other council members are allowed to hold other jobs.

By law, Cropp’s salary is supposed to match the highest-paid city agency head — currently Police Chief Charles Ramsey, who earns $155,000. But Cropp said she chose to match her pay to the highest-paid agency head whose salary is set by the mayor — Director of Recreation and Parks Betty Jo Gaines. Ramsey’s salary is governed by a contract with the control board. Council members by law earn $10,000 less than the chairman.

Mendelson criticized the way the increases took effect, calling it "upsetting to voters... and offensive to open government."

After accepting the raise, Cropp introduced legislation Feb. 24 to freeze council salaries at current levels and decouple the chairman’s salary from the salary of the highest paid agency head. The bill does not require a public hearing on council salaries.

Council members expect to mark up the bill March 16.

Copyright 1999, The Common Denominator