Council committee to study Auburn mayor’s compensation and benefits

The Auburn City Council is forming a special committee whose sole purpose will be to study the issue of the Auburn mayor’s benefits and wage compensation that has vexed it since December 2022.

At the regular meeting of Jan. 6, Councilmember Kate Baldwin proposed forming an ad hoc committee composed of staff and other city officials. All members voted in favor.

“We were planning initially to look at this in a study session, but there are a number of questions where we would benefit from having the opportunity to work on the ad hoc committee,” Baldwin said.

Baldwin said the committee will “work with staff to gather historic and comparative data, evaluate the present ordinance, establish appropriate legal span control, develop options for revising the existing ordinance language and present the findings back to council in study session with the next steps to be determined by council.”

No determination of membership on the ad hoc committee has yet been made, although Baldwin said it would include City Attorney Kendra Comeau; Candis Martinson, director of human resources and risk management; and others as needed “to complete the activities as described and share them in an organized fashion with council to help support forward motion.”

Many questions will center on recently proposed city ordinances whose airing incidentally brought to council and public attention that any Auburn mayor may accrue unlimited vacation time and cash all of it out upon leaving office. That benefit is not available to any other employees or department directors.

The intent of the ordinances, however, has nothing to do with increasing the mayor’s compensation. The first ordinance suggests removing provisions that existed before Jan. 1, 2018, namely excising a no-use-of sick-leave incentive day that disappeared with the passage of the Washington State Sick Leave law.

“Our city practice ended as of Jan. 2018 when that went into effect; however we are requesting council to consider city code cleanup to reflect this new practice,” Martinson said at the Feb. 13 study session.

It was the second ordinance, the one that recommends clean-up-related relocation of existing language on the mayor’s compensation and benefits, that caught the council’s attention.

In this case, as Administrative Director Dana Hinman has explained, there will be no change to the benefits for the city’s mayor, only a transfer of existing language from the personnel section to the section of the code that specifically addresses elected officials — in this case, the mayor. The language that is being transferred from the personnel section of the code to the mayor’s section of the code has been in the code since 1986, via Ordinance 4109, which allows the mayor to cash out vacation leave when they leave office.

Three mayors have enjoyed this benefit to date:

Bob Roegner: Served from Jan. 1, 1982, to Dec. 31, 1993. Final payout data not found. Vacation hours only per Ordinance 4109.

Charles Booth: Served from Jan. 1, 1994, to Dec. 31, 2001. Final payout was $ 53,677.29. Vacation hours only per Ordinance 4109.

Pete Lewis: Served Jan. 1, 2002, to Dec. 31, 2013, with 704 sick hours and 934.96 vacation hours as of Dec. 31, 2013. Final payout was $105,874.01 — vacation hours and sick hours per Ordinance 6486.

Ordinance 4109 was amended in 2013 to allow the mayor both vacation and sick leave cash out.

On Dec. 19, five of the seven council members voted to table further consideration of the currently proposed ordinances to the council study session of Jan. 9. That meeting in turn was canceled because the city was unable to broadcast the meeting.