PEPPER PIKE — Mayor Richard Bain and city council members debated the merits of increasing the mayoral salary during a meeting this past Saturday in an effort to attract a larger field of qualified candidates to run when the office is up for grabs during the 2019 general election.

Officials had a public discussion before council went into executive session to discuss employee salaries without Mayor Bain and Law Director Steve Byron.

“This is not about me. This is about the welfare of our city,” said Mayor Bain who shared the merits of higher pay for more qualified candidates.

The Pepper Pike mayor’s annual salary currently is $55,000. In comparison, the mayor of Moreland Hills earns $46,780 per year, and the mayor in Orange earns $55,000 annually.

Pepper Pike council, however, created the job of director of public safety in 2015 allowing the mayor to make that hire to the job that paid $10,000 annually. Mayor Bain appointed himself to the position that now pays $17,500 a year due to a council approved pay hike in 2017. As a result, Mayor Bain as of early this week was taking home $72,500 annually for both jobs.

Because the public safety director is not an elected position, council can increase that salary at any time. Council was scheduled to consider legislation on Wednesday to increase the public safety director’s pay to $27,500 retroactive to Jan. 1 of this year.

The salary debate is not new. Council increased the nonpartisan mayoral position’s pay from $45,000 to $55,000 in 2015 before the general election that year. In-term pay hikes for elected offices are not permitted by the city charter.

Council on Saturday did not talk about specific dollars for a proposed pay increase.

Mayor Bain cited a recent article from Bloomberg, which ranked the 50 wealthiest places in America. Pepper Pike is listed as No. 46, with a reported average household income of $252,720. He explained that in order to attract a resident to serve in the position of mayor, the city must offer enough compensation to make it financially feasible.

“We have highly compensated residents. We need to attract people who are capable, committed and willing to serve the city, and sometimes that requires them to step away from significant compensation,” he said. “We are a well-off city that can afford to try to attract the best among us to compete and serve in this role.”

Mayor Bain explained to council members that the role of the mayor expands annually, and said that he spends half days and often full days at City Hall instead of at his other full-time job as a partner at Meyers, Roman, Friedberg and Lewis law firm. Some cities hire additional employees to serve in a marketing role or assist in economic development, but Mayor Bain said that he completes those tasks in his position of mayor.

If council plans to change the mayor’s salary before an upcoming election, it must be completed prior to 30 days before the deadline for nominating petitions, according to Mr. Byron. Pepper Pike’s next mayoral election is slated for the fall of this year.

“It’s for the welfare of the community. The salary should reasonably reflect how much work goes into this,” Mayor Bain said. “There has to be some reasonable set-off with compensation to help make up the diminished salary they may receive from the other job they’re stepping away from.”

Councilman Manohar Daga asked if council could also review their own salaries, which are currently $8,200 per year. Council delved into a discussion about the true meaning of public service, and questioned whether the mayor or council need higher compensation.

Councilman Jim LeMay stated that he is not in favor of raising a council person’s salary because getting elected to council or the mayor’s office is public service.

“Any public service position is about public service,” he said. “Compensation for the mayor should reflect their public service.”

Vice Mayor Bob Freed offered his position, stating that the compensation for mayor should allow any qualified candidate to fill that position.

“I understand Jim’s point but we need to look at the person who fills this position and we can’t disqualify a candidate because of the salary,” he said. “If a person is willing and able to take the position but the financial sacrifice is too great, that could be a disqualifier.”

After hearing Mr. Freed’s comments, Councilman Scott Newell reminded council that the city was able to attract a qualified mayor such as Mayor Bain with the current level of compensation. He also said that the mayor chooses qualified department heads who run their respective parts of city operations.

Mayor Bain agreed, but added that the department heads need a CEO.

“This city is not being realistic in how much it compensates its chief executive officer,” he said. “It is not up to council to bracket compensation not to encourage people to come do the job.”

Councilman Richard Leskovec said that the mayor and council do serve in a role of public service, but stated that the mayor must give up part of his full-time job to serve as mayor while council members do not.

“There’s a distinction between council and the mayor,” he said. “We put our day job ahead of our council job. It doesn’t cut into our livelihood and day jobs.”

Mr. Leskovec also said that in some cities, mayors are typically either retired or independently wealthy, and said that he would not want to rely on those people only to serve as mayor.

The next Pepper Pike council meeting is on Feb. 27 at 7:30 p.m. at 28000 Shaker Boulevard.

Julie Hullett has been a reporter for the Chagrin Valley Times since August of 2018 and covers Gates Mills, Hunting Valley, Moreland Hills, Orange, Pepper Pike and Woodmere. She graduated from John Carroll University with a journalism degree in 2018.

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