UPDATE: The Denver City Council passed pay raises for themselves and the mayor on Monday, March 4.
Councilman Kevin Flynn, Councilwoman Kendra Black, Councilman Wayne New and Councilman Rafael Espinoza voted against the pay hikes.
The Denver City Council has the power to give incoming elected officials a raise, but that doesn’t mean they’ll use it.
The council revisits politico salaries every four years thanks to a voter-approved law that requires it. Council members make about $92,000 annually, the council president makes $103,000, and Mayor Michael Hancock makes $171,000. The auditor and the clerk each make $148,000.
During a Finance and Governance Committee meeting Tuesday, council members advanced a measure to raise policymakers’ pay by the maximum amount — 10 percent over four years. The new salaries would start July 15, after city elections.
Council members Rafael Espinoza and Kevin Flynn floated the idea of skipping the pay increase.
“If we get into such a rarefied air, we cannot be in touch with with the problems of the median income households,” Espinoza said. “And we are far from that, as you can tell. It’s a public service job. It should come with a little bit of a squeeze so we understand. And right now we’re not there.”
Still, the committee unanimously voted to move the measure to the full legislative body where the entire council will debate it.
Mayor Michael Hancock, who would sign the bill into law, punted to the council.
“We just learned yesterday that this is being reviewed by Council,” Hancock said in a statement to Denverite. “The city’s charter requires Council to consider quadrennial pay raises after the first of the year and prior to the May election. We’ll be watching the process and will support Council’s final decision.”
Council salaries pale in comparison to some cities but are well above others.
Seattle pols get paid over $129,000, for example, while Minneapolis policymakers get about $82,000, according to information compiled by Councilwoman Robin Kniech’s office. Colorado county commissioners make $120,000.
Denver’s elected officials are full-time employees whose work weeks generally easily surpass 40 hours, they said Tuesday. Still, the optics of giving oneself a raise aren’t lost on them. Kniech and Councilman Paul Kashmann both called the setup “a political football.”
Kashmann said he would give voters a chance to “get council out of the decision” if reelected.
Kniech acknowledged the awkwardness, but also rejected the idea that electeds can’t relate to constituents because of their current lot.
“No one knows the lives that council members came from,” Kniech said. “No one knows the incomes of our families or the living situations or housing situations or lack of housing situations we may have come from, and so I think to assume that we haven’t walked in the shoes of our constituents because of the salaries we may earn today is an inappropriate assumption.”
Kniech said she has a colleague in Aurora, a mother, who had to resign from office because she couldn’t hold down the part-time council position and a job.
“I don’t think it should be a race to that bottom in terms of other governmental entities,” she said. “I do think it’s important to look at how 0ther rational compensations are made without the politics.”