Coupeville mayor gets her pay hike after some debate

Mayor Nancy Conard was granted a hefty if slightly contested pay raise by Coupeville’s town council on Tuesday, bumping her yearly salary from $12,000 to $26,000 largely in part for her long-standing effectiveness as town administrator.

Along with the raise came an outline of mayoral responsibilities above and beyond those dictated by state law, from which an incoming mayor can more or less pick and choose in defining the extent of his or her role in town government.

The ordinance, in effect, codifies what Conard has already been doing as mayor, and then pays her for it fair and square.

“Generally, people have been pretty supportive of it,” Conard said of Ordinance 625. She said she was pleased that the council saw fit, after much deliberation, to approve the increased salary.

“We’re all in agreement that the current mayor has earned a higher salary,” Councilman Frank Tippets said on Wednesday, adding that in light of the extra work Conard has done over the past six years, her new salary amounts to a retroactive monthly total of $1,000 in salary — or exactly what a mayor would get for putting in a mere eight hours a week.

Council members also agreed, therefore, that Coupeville was getting its money’s worth in more than doubling the popular mayor’s paycheck, though prior to passing the ordinance the board encountered some strong criticism from members of the public, including former Coupeville mayor Jack McPherson.

Much of the criticism focused not on the proposition to raise the mayor’s salary but on a dual ordinance, called 624, that allows the mayor to in effect choose the level of service he or she shall perform, from the minimum of 8 hours per week with pay of $1,000 a month, to that opted by Conard as a part-time town administrator paid a part-time salary.

McPherson, speaking before the council, warned of the “unintended consequences” of changing Coupeville’s rules of government, both in raising the mayor’s salary and opening the door for a mayor without Conard’s initiative as an administrator.

“What if the next mayor is incompetent fiscally?” McPherson asked. He suggested that the council table the propositions and schedule a formal pubic hearing on the issue.

Councilman Phil Williamson, who cast a rather voluminous dissenting vote on 624, expressed similar concerns about the ordinance, which he said “opens a can of worms” for the future of Coupeville government.

“That could lead to a real fiasco if an incompetent mayor got elected,” Williamson said of the ordinance. “The council has no authority to direct the mayor to hire an administrator.”

Williamson also objected to an amendment to the ordinance which bumped the mayor’s base salary — the salary to be received if a future mayor does not choose to take on administrative duties — from $500 to $1,000 a month.

“I didn’t feel it gave any new mayor an incentive to do the necessary administration,” Williamson said. “He would come in and say, ‘Hey you guys, $12,000 (a year) is enough, why should I work more than eight hours a week?”

Williamson based his reasons for such thinking in the ancient democratic ideal of selfless public service: “I think a mayor coming in, in my mind, should be a public servant, and doing it is a public service, with money being of no consequence.

“Why not lower it to $250?” he added.

In Conard’s case, however, Williamson was in full support of the substantial boost to her current salary, which takes place retroactively Jan. 1.

“I think the mayor has earned that money,” Williamson said. “I can’t speak too highly of Mayor Conard. The town is fortunate to have her.”

Conard, in an interview on Wednesday, called the new arrangement set up by the two ordinances “unique,” in that it provides the mayor with greater flexibility in how she will serve the town. She added that both she and the council have been working on the proposals and discussing and mulling them for some time, often in executive sessions.

“This has been an evolutionary process,” Conard said. “It was a long time coming.”

Tippets pointed out that the salary increase ends with Conard’s term, after which the incoming mayor will, according to ordinance 624, be required to propose a new plan to the council.

“Seventeen or 18 months from now, it will be time for anyone who would like to see things done differently to step forward and give us some comments,” Tippets said.

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