W hen Mayor-elect Ed Murray announced new staffers last week, one thing stood out: These new hires will be making a lot of money. And not just compared to a bunch of dropouts-turned-reporters working for an alternative weekly, either. Virtually all of his senior staff and new department heads will make substantially more than the comparable people they replace in the McGinn administration.
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On average, Murray's executive staff (deputy mayors, budget director, and communications director) will make $29,000 more per year than those holding equivalent positions under Mayor Mike McGinn. It's an average of 21 percent more a year based on current salaries.
Murray's two deputy mayors will each make $170,000 a year, while the current one, Darryl Smith, earns just over $129,000. New budget director Ben Noble, coming to the mayor's office from the city council's central staff? He'll also make $170,000, even though outgoing budget genius Beth Goldberg made $152,584 this year. Boosts in salaries continue down the ranks. For example, the city's Office for Civil Rights director, Julie Nelson, doesn't quite make $113,000 a year, but her replacement, Patricia Lally, will draw a salary of $151,000—almost $40,000 more.
This has started some fun new memes among journalists and political nerds (aside from the obvious "Why didn't we go into politics, because holy shit is that a lot of money"). One, pushed by the Seattle Times, is that McGinn hired inexperienced people, while Murray's better picks simply deserve more. Wrote Seattle Times' Lynn Thompson of Murray's announcement, "The hires represent a sharp contrast with those of departing Mayor Mike McGinn, who initially filled his executive team with campaign workers and activists with little experience in city government."
Murray transition team cochair Dwight Dively notes that McGinn had to hire during the recession and thus "was able to hire people at lower salaries," but he says the differential also represents "different philosophies about the type of individuals it takes to run a large, complex government."
Understandably, the implication that his ragtag crew just didn't have enough experience to earn big bucks rankles McGinn, who says by phone that his staff "viewed it as a privilege to work on behalf of the city" and did a "great job" dealing with a tough economy.
But the implication of a subpar staff doesn't stand up to scrutiny—Nelson has worked for the city for decades; Goldberg came from King County's budget office. There were certainly some scruffy campaign volunteers on McGinn's staff, but that's not a real explanation for the salary differentials.
There's one more important thing at work here: While Murray touts his Office of Policy and Innovation as a "major staffing innovation," as if the idea for such an office was his own brainchild, there was, of course, a policy office before McGinn—it was slashed by the council (which was at loggerheads with McGinn his entire term) before he was even sworn in, along with $500,000 in mayoral staffing money. After Murray was elected, the council, most of whom endorsed Murray, added $750,000 in mayoral policy staffing. Just a coincidence, we're sure.