New rules clarify how Auburn pays mayor, handles benefits

On June 5, the Auburn City Council approved new rules to make the division clear.

From now on, the city’s Independent Salary Commission’s single purpose will be to set the salaries of the mayor and city council.

Employment benefits like sick leave, vacation or management leave will now be spelled out by city ordinance.

On June 5, the Auburn City Council approved new rules to make the division clear.

A routine reordering of certain sections of the city code late last year brought to council’s attention the amount of uncompensated vacation and sick leave the mayor had accrued during her terms, a sum that would be due to her under the-then current rules, should she have left the position that day.

Benefits were estimated at about $150,000 at that time. The revelation induced a case of council sticker shock.

In reaction, the council formed the one-time, three-member committee that reviewed the historical practices of the Independent Salary Commission. Councilmember Kate Baldwin, who chaired the committee, was careful to note Monday that these changes in no way reflect disapproval of present Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus.

“While the outcome of our work provides some new changes to city code, I would like to be clear that changing directions does not mean we do not have faith in our captain,” Baldwin said of Backus. “It simply means we see potential risks ahead, and we want to make sure we are guiding the path of the ship to avoid future surprises.

“We have produced,” Baldwin continued, “an approach that meets our goals and the spirit of our mission: to limit future financial exposure to the city; to bring our mayoral benefits in line with our neighboring communities; to bring benefits in line with those of staff and directors; and to ensure that the city has appropriate checks and balances for this unique position to moving the benefits to be managed by ordinance.”

Baldwin added that council members and Mayor Backus agreed before Monday’s vote that the legislation “accomplishes our shared goals.”

As for the commission, committee members determined that city code had used the ambiguous term “compensation,” which could be interpreted to include not only the mayor’s salary, but those other benefits. The committee also determined the Independent Salary Commission had in fact not been voting on vacation leave, sick leave, or management leave benefits.

Baldwin explained what the changes will accomplish:

Modify the accrual rates for vacation and sick leave going forward to set them at a reasonable rate for the present mayor and for future mayors, based on longevity of service as mayor;

Provide Backus with “a pad of unused vacation and sick leave,” which she will accrue between now and the end of her current term;

Compensate Backus for the leave she has accrued to date, payable at the end of her term but at her current rate of pay.• Moving forward, it sets Backus’s accrual rate at seven hours per pay period up to a cap of 364 hours, consistent with the average of the rate afforded the city directors she supervises; and

Allow Backus to cash out 100 percent of her sick leave, accrued between today and the end of her term.

Prior to a vote of the commission to raise or lower salaries, Auburn residents will now have an opportunity to comment or submit comments in writing in a manner consistent with the procedure used at regularly scheduled meetings of the city council for public comment. Commission meetings will be subject to the Open Public Meetings Act, and all meetings will be recorded by audio, and a written record kept.

Any city council or mayoral salary increase or decrease will occur only if three members of the commission vote in favor of the increase or decrease. Those votes will suffice for the decision of all matters and the transaction of all business to be decided or transacted by the Independent Salary Commission.