Hefty pay raises granted to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s personal staff are not what they appear, a top mayoral aide said Monday.
Kicking off City Council budget hearings, Budget Director Alex Holt tried to explain why the 2017 budget for the mayor’s office includes a new $112,000 a year assistant to the mayor and what appears to be pay raises as high as 30 percent for existing members of the mayor’s staff.
“I just want to caution that the appearance of large increases may very well not be due to an actual increase in somebody’s salary. It simply might be the way this budget book lines up,” Holt said, acknowledging that a 2 percent cost-of-living adjustment for nonunion employees took effect July 1.
“Because we have a very old budgeting system, you can’t actually look at the budget book and determine who’s gotten what kind of increase. The salaries are lined up in salary order from the largest down within a particular title class. So, what you’ll see is a 2016 position where somebody might actually be making just as much in 2017 as they were in ’16, but because of the way the salaries are ordered within the book, it appears that they weren’t.”
The deputy chief of staff who fills the line item with a $30,012 increase — to $185,004 a year — is Andrea Zopp.
She’s the former Chicago Urban League president hired in May to serve as deputy mayor and chief neighborhood development officer.
That’s a job Emanuel created for her as he faced deep distrust among black voters who believe their unsafe neighborhoods have been left behind.
Fresh off her failed campaign for the U.S. Senate, Zopp was charged with driving development in all 77 Chicago neighborhoods — but with a particular focus on long-neglected neighborhoods on the South and West Sides.
“There were some new hires in the mayor’s office — particularly around Andrea Zopp’s team, the neighborhood team, where people came in at a higher rate than the vacant position. They have not received a pay increase since that point in time. It was just simply the investment the mayor is making in Andy Zopp’s team,” Holt said.
“The other thing that’s possible is that $112,000 you’re seeing there in ’16 is still $112,000 in 2017. It’s just the way the positions line up along that same title. It’s appearing lower down on the list and somebody else has jumped up over them and it looks like the $112,000 has gone to $150,000. It’s a problem with a very old system, and one that we need to fix because it’s one that actually confuses me every year.”
Ald. John Arena (45th) was not totally satisfied with the budget director’s explanation. He asked for a side-by-side comparison of salaries and positions in the mayor’s office this year and next.
“If we have positions that were $150,000 last year, even if we’re hiring a new person in the same position for $183,000, what changed in that position? What are the roles and responsibilities that have changed to justify a $30,000 increase in that position?” Arena said.
“Clearly, we have two other people in that position that are doing it for $150,000. What’s the difference? That’s what I’m looking for — a more astute comparison of last year over this year,” he said.
Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, drew a smattering of applause when he dared to say what a lot of his colleagues were apparently thinking about their own staffers.
“I’m gonna make one more request — and this is something that’s been on my mind for some time — and I’m hoping that we can find a way to pay for this: I think all 50 of us can use one more staffer,” Sawyer said.
“Let’s just say if that’s a shade under $3 million in the budget, if we can find a way to make that happen, that would help us all a lot,” he said. “Just something to think about. We can all use one more person in our office.”
Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) and Budget Chairman Carrie Austin (34th) also renewed their perennial gripe about a treasured aldermanic menu program that doles out $1.32 million to each of the 50 aldermen to spent on infrastructure projects of the alderman’s choosing, regardless of geographic area.
Beale noted that Austin has 195 residential and alley miles, while other aldermen have just 30 miles, and they’re able to repave those streets every three or four years.
“Sometimes, we have to make tough decisions. We have to make some tough choices. And sometimes, we have to piss some people off to do what’s right. And I think it’s about time,” Beale said.