At the June 27 City Council meeting, a special mayoral-appointed committee delivered its recommendations regarding the pay of City elected officials to the City Council. Despite some confusion surrounding the legality of the proposed adjustment to the City Clerk’s pay, Council members seemed poised to accept the committee’s recommended 23.1% increase to aldermanic and mayoral pay.  Council voted 7-0 to introduce the recommendation for increased compensation for the mayor and aldermen. 

Under the proposal, the annual pay for an alderman would increase a flat $3,000 to $15,990. The mayor would be paid $25,307, also a $3,000 increase. These stipends would be fixed with no annual increases for the entire four-year term for each office, beginning next May, when a new Council will be sworn in. The mayoral and aldermanic positions are officially part-time, with no stated regular hours other than City Council meetings. Aldermen estimate they spend about 30 hours per week working on aldermanic duties, with some weeks requiring far more time. The mayor has said she spends more time than that, including regular office hours at the Civic Center. 

The committee recommended that the City Clerk, whose salary is currently $54,120 per year, “should receive the same raise as other Evanston non-union employees.”  Unlike the aldermen and mayor, the Clerk has a full-time position, with the office open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.

The recommendation for the increase in the Clerk’s salary proved controversial for two reasons: first, qualifying an elected official as an “employee” in the code is not appropriate or fair, said Clerk Rodney Greene. The second reason, raised by Eighth Ward Alderman Ann Rainey, was that, since the Clerk’s salary could be adjusted each year, it was not properly “fixed” according to Illinois law.

On the first matter, an elected official should not be “described as a full-time non-union employee of the City,” said Clerk Greene. “At one time, the clerk’s position was part-time but became full-time in 1993,” he said, at which point the pay increased by 39% according to the Compensation Committee’s memo to Council. 

Under the Committee’s proposal, the Clerk’s pay would increase by the same amount as other full time non-union employees. The proposed ordinance provides that “the Clerk will be eligible for and receive the same percentage salary increase given to non-union City employees in each fiscal year. This salary increase will take effect upon City Council’s adoption of the annual budget each fiscal year in the time period of May 1, 2017 through April 30, 2021. Any salary increase for fiscal year 2017 will not be retroactive; any will only take effect May 1, 2017.” 

Ald. Rainey said she believed the proposed Clerk pay recommendation is not legal. The Local Government Officer Compensation Act, 50 ILCS 145/1 et seq., provides, “the compensation of elected officers of school districts and units of local government, including home rule units, which compensation is to be fixed by that school district or unit of local government, shall be fixed at least 180 days before the beginning of the terms of the officers whose compensation is to be fixed.”

Tying pay to annual, unspecified increases is not “fixed” under the law, said Ald. Rainey. “All four years have to be clarified, set out,” she said. “Salary has to be absolutely fixed 180 days prior to the term.” 

Compensation Committee Chair Alvin Telser said, “We provided our report to City staff on June 7. If there was anything illegal about it, we should have been told about that.” He said the committee would have set a fixed pay rate had they known and could easily do so. 

The City’s legal staff promised to look into the matter. 

Ald. Rainey then raised another controversial aspect of aldermanic pay: the provision of medical insurance benefits. “The stipend for … paid insurance is very inequitable,” she said. “When the insurance provided is $12,000, $18,000, whatever, our pay is not equitable.” Some aldermen, such as Ald. Rainey, receive far less in insurance benefits than do others. At least one alderman, Brian Miller, 9th Ward, receives no health care benefit at all, she said. 

“[A] 23% [increase] brings us up to $15,990,” said Ald. Rainey, “less than people [working at] Goodwill make. It is sometimes humiliating telling people how much I make.” 

“It is hard to find comparables in the northern Illinois area,” said Committee Chair Telser. “When you look at aldermanic stipends, Evanston stands out in a number of ways.” First, in providing health insurance, and second, in that alderman staff some 45 committees. The most committees in any other community was 20 committees, he said. 

“I’m not comparing my town to any other,” said Ald. Rainey. “I’m just comparing my compensation to others sitting up here with me. It’s not equitable. … When you look at the numbers, it is really glaring. And really unfair.” Three aldermen receive about $18,000 each in health-care benefits, she said.

Ald. Rainey proposed that aldermen who did not receive health-care benefits, or took less in benefits than others, should get more of a stipend to even things out. 

Committee Chair Telser said the committee discussed the health-care benefit, but ultimately decided to leave everything as it was. Council will no doubt discuss Ald. Rainey’s proposal further in two weeks, when the proposal comes back for a vote. The measure was just up for introduction on June 27.  

There is still plenty of time to consider compensation, said Clerk Greene. The proposed ordinance that would set Clerk Green’s pay was introduced by a 6-1 vote, with Ald. Rainey voting no.