Parker criticized for executive salary raises [Houston Chronicle]
(Houston Chronicle (TX) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Aug. 29--Mayor Annise Parker has given her top staffers significant raises since taking office in 2010, drawing fire from challenger Ben Hall and the Houston firefighters union.
Though all city employees have received raises at least once during Parker's tenure, the executive staff increases far outstrip the pay hikes granted to employees via union negotiations.
Topping the list are Parker's chief of staff, Waynette Chan, who has seen her salary increase 46 percent to $186,030; and communications director Janice Evans, who has seen a 31 percent increase, to $131,768, both since January 2010. Finance director Kelly Dowe, at $199,500, has received a 29 percent bump since assuming that role in 2011. Chief development officer Andy Icken has received a 27 percent increase since early 2010, to $176,384.
City Attorney David Feldman, at $244,192, has received a 19 percent raise since joining the administration in May 2010. Press secretary Jessica Michan has received a 15 percent hike, to $87,880, and William-Paul Thomas, council liaison, has received a 13 percent increase, to $80,000.
The Houston Chronicle calculated the increases based on when the employees assumed their current jobs and duties on the mayor's senior staff.
"She is simply rewarding her friends with taxpayer dollars," Hall, the mayor's top challenger in November, said, pointing to the 747 workers Parker laid off in passing a tight budget in 2011. "It was unfair and wrong for a mayor to ask so many to sacrifice while secretly rewarding her buddies."
City payroll data show that during Parker's tenure, 22,357 city workers got at least one contractual raise. Those raises averaged 5 percent, with the amounts varying between the municipal, fire and police unions. For the 12,993 employees who also received a salary adjustment, promotion or merit raise -- or some combination of those -- the average overall raise was 11 percent.
The six other members of Parker's senior staff have received raises of 11 percent or less.
'Not in same ballpark'
Parker said the recession and budget shortfall she inherited led her to lowball her senior staff.
"Because of the tough times, I brought this team in at salaries far lower than what they could make elsewhere," she said. "Both Houston and our city government have emerged from the recession stronger than ever. My team played a huge role in helping getting us here. Over time, I have attempted to bring their salaries to a more competitive level."
Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association President Jeff Caynon said workers' contractual raises are "not in the same ballpark" as Parker's executive hikes. The union has endorsed Hall.
"The time when those raises happened, you had other employees that were either making concessions because of the economy or getting laid off, and at the same time the inner-circle folks were getting the kind of raises they were getting," Caynon said.
Ray Hunt, president of the Houston Police Officers Union, which has endorsed Parker, said the mayor's staff salaries give him no heartburn.
"Anybody who got laid off during that year, I'm sure they're very, very upset about it, and understandably so, but when you have a downturn in the economy and you're trying to turn things around, you better keep your key people in those positions and you're going to have to compensate them what you believe they're worth," Hunt said. "I personally am not concerned about the salaries of the top administrators in the city of Houston. I don't think any of them are out of line with the private sector."
'Bargains in good faith'
Melvin Hughes, head of the municipal employees union, declined comment.
Richard Shaw, of the Harris County AFL-CIO, said the raises do not disturb him because the mayor now negotiates pay agreements with all three unions.
"As far as I'm concerned, she bargains in good faith with all employee groups and, from a labor standpoint, that's what we ask for," Shaw said. "The firefighters need to quit whining. They didn't take any hits on layoffs. They negotiated that pay agreement with the mayor."
GOP communications consultant Jim McGrath said the issue will be little more than water-cooler fodder at City Hall unless Hall can show a pattern of such decisions.
"Taxpayers and voters care about their well-being and their future and if the mayor has failed in some regard as it relates to that, that's something you can get traction with," McGrath said. "This inside baseball stuff will not fundamentally alter the dynamics of a race that isn't looking good for Mr. Hall at present."
Democratic political consultant Mustafa Tameez agreed: "This is not going to be seen well by the public, but something like this doesn't make or break the election."
(c)2013 the Houston Chronicle
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