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Mayor’s pay hike proposal debated

Coppola says Port Orchard deserves a full-time leader who is compensated accordingly.

A proposal to raise Port Orchard Mayor Lary Coppola’s salary with the use of lodging tax funds apparently has the votes it needs for approval by the city council, but is still generating controversy about changing the rules in the middle of a term.

“The mayor is a full-time job,” Coppola said. “And the mayor of Port Orchard should earn as much as the mayor of Poulsbo, which has fewer people and covers a smaller area.”

The proposal on the table would raise Coppola’s projected yearly pay from $19,738 to $62,169 a year. It seeks to channel $20,000 from hotel and motel lodging tax revenues, which would cover the increase for the first six months of 2009.

After this point, the council would meet to decide whether or not to continue paying the salary at this rate or revert to a part-time status.

Like many private-sector positions, this would be tied to deliverables. If Coppola did not generate enough new funds to cover the salary increase, it would be withdrawn.

The proposal was due for discussion at Monday night’s budget meeting. A vote to approve the raise — and the rest of the budget — is scheduled for Dec. 9.

Councilman Fred Olin, who is the strongest dissenting voice, was expected to request a delay of the vote as he will be out of the country.

On the other hand, he admits he “probably doesn’t have the votes” to defeat the proposal.

In a recent budget session, Olin and Fred Chang voiced opposition to the proposal. Councilmen Jerry Childs, John Clauson, Jim Colebank and Rob Putaansuu were in support, while Councilwoman Carolyn Powers was not present.

Four votes are needed for approval.

Olin is against the idea for three reasons: The salary should not be changed in the middle of a term, it should not come from tourism funds, and it should be put to a public vote.

“If the people of Port Orchard want a full-time mayor, then they should make that choice themselves,” Olin said. “I don’t think it is something that the council should decide.” 

Olin said tourism is part of the mayor’s job and he should not get anything extra from these efforts. As for annexation, “It is a team effort and no one person should get credit for any annexation.”

Chang, who favors the mayor’s office becoming a full-time position, said he is not comfortable with the use of tourism funds.

Childs and Putaansuu expressed support for the proposal, but could not predict their votes in the future.

For instance, Childs favors the temporary nature of the idea, but feels the public should vote on any permanent action.

Putaansuu said he would be willing to enact a permanent salary raise as a council action rather than a public vote.

Coppola uses Poulsbo as a benchmark, arguing that the mayors of both cities should earn equal amounts.

In fact, the projected salary for Coppola would exceed that of Poulsbo Mayor Kathryn Quade by $12.

“The mayor is CEO of a small business,” Quade said. “Because of this, they should get a full-time salary. They put in full-time hours.”

Quade, who had not heard of Coppola’s proposal, called it “interesting.”

She echoed Coppola’s contention that the number of required board meetings consisted of a full-time job, in and of itself.

According to Quade, the Poulsbo mayor’s office has been a full-time position since its creation in 1988, and was also personality driven. The public works director was asked to take on the mayor’s responsibility but declined because it would represent a cut in pay.

The council then created the position for his benefit.

Coppola’s raise is tied to his own abilities, so opponents feel that adding tourism skill as an incentive will fall apart if Coppola’s successor lacks the same skills.

Bainbridge Island Mayor Darlene Kordownowy earns $63,000 per year, which is projected as 75 percent of an $84,000 full-time salary.

Like Coppola, she puts in the long hours and anything above 30 hours a week qualifies as volunteer labor.

Coppola said his research prior to running for mayor indicated the job could be done in a 30-hour week. After taking office, he found this was not the case.

In order to do the job properly, he said he needed to delegate his business responsibilities (he publishes a monthly business newspaper) and neglect his responsibilities.

If the action is not approved, he will not walk away from the job he was elected to perform. However, he has indicated he would scale back his mayoral activity to the proscribed 20 hours a week, which will “basically leave Port Orchard in the same, ‘empty seat at the table’ position it has traditionally had in regards to all other government functions and interactions.”

A raise, he said, is only fair.

“Port Orchard needs to step up to reality to take our rightful seat at the table — just as almost every other city our size has,” he said. “By not doing so, Port Orchard will ultimately lose out to the other cities and things will simply remain stagnant — just as they’ve been for the past 30-plus years. We deserve better.”

For a report on Monday’s budget session go to www.portorchardindependent.com.

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