It’s not that Mike Geier has an easy job; being chief of the Albuquerque Police Department is certainly no walk in the park.
Albuquerque Fire Chief Paul Dow, Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair, Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Rael, and other high-ranking staffers in Mayor Tim Keller’s administration have tough jobs, too. Jobs not just anyone could pull off, much less pull off well.
But despite the challenges of those jobs, and despite those staffers’ often impressive qualifications, there’s a pretty good chance that news about their five-figure raises in Thursday’s Journal has already ruffled a few feathers.
It’s easy to see why.
Journal writer Jessica Dyer reported that dozens of high-level city staffers received not one, but two raises this year. In addition to the 2% raises doled out across the board to the city rank and file earlier this month, the group of nearly 50 unclassified employees – those who serve at the pleasure of the mayor – had also received a raise in March that averaged 6.2%.
For Geier, 12% plus 2% added up to a $23,733 raise this year, bringing his salary to $190,736.
For Dow, a $17,347 (10.6% plus 2%) raise brought his yearly income to $153,005; Nair’s $22,443 hike (11% plus 2%) means she is now earning $193,814, and Rael’s raise of $21,424 (10.6% plus 2%) brought his salary to $188,718.
Keller’s office has maintained that the raises are necessary for the city to stay competitive and points to high-level staff it has already lost to higher-paying state jobs. The mayor’s staff also noted that, last year, police received 10.2% raises and this year’s budget includes $5 million for police raises and longevity pay. Other union-represented groups also tended to get higher raises, according to information provided by the city.
That all may well be, but the amount of raises handed out this year to Keller’s top people still stings, especially when remembering that many Albuquerque residents – including city workers – are still living paycheck to paycheck.
Remember, a July 22 Journal story noted that hundreds of municipal employees availed themselves of high-interest emergency loans through a new city-sponsored lending program since last year. That’s a lot of people with conventionally steady jobs and an average salary of $41,084 who still didn’t have the means to weather even a minor financial storm.
“If you’re making $100,000 a year and I’m making $30,000 a year, a 2% raise to you is $2,000,” City Councilor Diane Gibson pointed out. “Two percent for me would be $600.”
The math doesn’t lie, and the fact that Keller’s 50-person inner circle received not one, but two raises – did they really need the rank and file’s 2%? – adds insult to working-class injury.
Remember, city leaders cited a $40 million budget deficit last year as a justification to raise taxes on goods and services without voter approval, only to turn around months later and announce that the deficit was really a $5 million surplus – but city residents got to keep on paying those higher gross receipts taxes at the register.
Homelessness is rampant in our city, a third of Bernalillo County residents are on Medicaid, and 14.9% of our residents don’t know where their next meal is coming from.
And so two-fer raises on the 11th floor of City Hall just don’t play with many of the taxpayers picking up the tab.
Of course, the city needs to take steps to make sure its high-level staffers are well-qualified, talented, smart people who can solve our myriad problems. Fair and market-level wages are absolutely a part of that.
But city leaders would do well to remember that, especially under a mayor tasked with addressing entrenched poverty, crime and homelessness visible on too many of the street corners of our city, optics and parity to taxpayers, as well as employees, matter.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.