CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Saying he did an “excellent” job of running the city of Charlotte, the City Council voted 8-3 Monday night to give City Manager Curt Walton a 6 percent pay hike.
Some council members said they are trying to raise the manager’s pay to that of other government and nonprofit leaders, some of whom manage much smaller budgets than the city of Charlotte’s.
But the pay hike covers a year in which city employees received no raise – only a 1 percent one-time lump sum payment. During the downturn, in which raises for city employees were cut or reduced, council members have consistently bumped up the pay of Walton, as well as the pay of the city attorney.
Walton’s total compensation will increase to $257,698, up from $243,654 a year earlier.
That includes a $5,700 auto allowance and a $3,600 expense allowance, both of which were unchanged. The manager’s deferred compensation increased to $7,506, from $7,097.
The manager’s bonus was rolled into his base pay two years ago.
The attorney and manager are hired by the City Council and mayor. They also set their pay.
“I think he did very well,” said Democratic council member John Autry, who voted for the pay raise. “I think he’s very likely underpaid for a person in that position.”
The council’s two Republicans, Warren Cooksey and Andy Dulin, voted against the pay raise. Democrat Michael Barnes also voted no and said after the meeting he thought the increase was too high.
Much of Walton’s year was spent working on an ambitious $926 million capital plan, which would have invested in some of the city’s less-affluent neighborhoods.
In June, council members voted against moving forward with the plan, a decision that stunned Walton and staff members.
In an email to the Observer Tuesday, Walton said he considers the capital plan well-conceived, and that “I believe we’ll see essentially the same plan at some point in the future.”
Walton also pointed to other accomplishments, such as preparing for the Democratic National Convention in September and advancing the Lynx Blue Line extension to University City. The city has so far survived the economic downturn with minimal budget cuts and its AAA bond rating intact.
In recent years, a sore spot for Walton has reportedly been that his pay lags behind other Charlotte governmental leaders, as well as those at nonprofits.
Tom Murray, the new chief executive of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, has a salary of $275,000 plus an $8,000 a year car allowance. The CRVA is dependent on the city of Charlotte for its budget, and manages city-owned buildings such as the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Michael Smith, the president of Center City Partners, which depends on city-collected property tax money, was given a $62,000 bonus a year ago. That raised his total compensation to roughly $300,000.
A year ago, Mecklenburg County Manager Harry Jones’ total compensation was just under $300,000.
Council members reportedly reviewed a salary comparison with other city managers and local leaders. The Observer requested that information Tuesday, but the city said it couldn’t locate it.
When asked by the Observer about how his pay compares with other Charlotte leaders, Walton replied: “That’s a mathematic comparison that’s easy to do and I will let others draw those conclusions.”
Council members met Monday afternoon in closed session to discuss Walton’s evaluation.
In the past three years, Walton and city staff have said that the manager is being reviewed for the previous fiscal year, and that any pay increase for the manager should be compared to the raise pool for overall city employees in the previous year.
In fiscal year 2012, for which Walton was evaluated, there were no raises for city employees – only a 1 percent lump sum payment.
But Autry and Democrats Claire Fallon and James Mitchell said they were under the impression that Walton’s raise is in line with a 3 percent raise pool for all city employees this fiscal year, in which some high performers can receive more money.
Fallon said it isn’t important how council members benchmark a pay raise.
“He’s running a billion-dollar business,” Fallon said. “If he was in private industry he would be making $8 million a year plus stock options.”