LAKE STEVENS — The city’s soon-to-be full-time mayor will earn $80,000 a year, a citizen panel decided Monday.
The five-member Lake Stevens Salary Commission unanimously agreed on the annual wage for the non-partisan elected post moments after a public hearing in which some residents wanted it set lower and others higher.
Once the commission files the figure with the city clerk, the salary will take effect 30 days later and at that point Mayor Brett Gailey will become the city’s first full-time elected mayor and start earning a bigger paycheck. His current mayoral salary is $26,804 a year.
The salary cannot be changed by the Lake Stevens City Council, only the commission. Commissioners did agree to let the council set the benefits.
“I think it is generous,” Commissioner Brian McManus said prior to the final vote. “I think it is a fair rate to start at.”
Commissioner Carolyn Bennett said “if it was only up to me I would set it a bit higher. I think 80 (thousand) is fair as a starting point.”
A divided city council voted in September to convert the mayoral position from a part-time job to a full-time gig.
Commissioners reviewed what mayors in similar-sized cities earn. They also considered the potential impact on the city’s budget of setting too high a salary. They decided last month on the $80,000 figure, with Monday’s hearing an opportunity for residents to try to sway them.
Several speakers urged a lower starting amount. Most said they did not agree with making the post full time and said the commission should be conservative, given the economic uncertainty of the coronavirus emergency. It can be raised in future years, they said.
“It seems a bad time, especially with the pandemic and how it will affect other services,” said Kathryn Watanabe. “If he’s going to get that little chunk of change, then other departments are going to be affected.”
But two speakers said it didn’t seem adequate for the additional demands of a full-time mayor. They wanted to be sure it is at a high enough level to ensure top-flight candidates seek the post in future elections.
Given the the amount of work required of a person elected to run the city, the amount must be high enough to ensure “the best of the best” step up to serve, said Janice Huxford.
Gailey has not taken part in the salary-setting process.
When he was elected mayor last year, he had a full-time job with the Everett Police Department. He earned $106,000 in 2019, according to city figures. He retired in May, shortly after the settlement of his civil lawsuit against the city of Everett in which he argued he was wrongfully and repeatedly passed over for promotions.
The timing of the council’s action aroused suspicion among some critics who said this was not a subject discussed in last fall’s mayoral campaign. To some, it appeared the council majority was moving quickly to provide Gailey another full-time job.
A couple of speakers expressed that view Monday in asking commissioners to start the salary much lower.
In Lake Stevens, a city of 34,000 residents, the mayor is directly elected to serve a four-year term and is the city’s CEO, responsible for hiring key staffers, representing Lake Stevens in various civic roles and serving as the public face of government.
Only a handful of cities in Snohomish County operate with full-time mayors earning full-time salaries.
Lynnwood, with a population of 40,690, pays its mayor $112,272, according to data compiled by Lake Stevens city staff. In Edmonds, which is slightly more populous, the mayor earned $125,928 in 2019, while in Marysville, which has 69,180 residents, the salary is $142,848.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; email@example.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.