Councilmembers talk salary boost for Bloomington clerk, council admin, and council itself

On the first night of Bloomington’s 2024 departmental budget hearings, Bloomington’s elected city clerk Nicole Bolden opened her presentation like this: “I’m going to start with the very big elephant in the room: This is not the budget proposal that I wanted to make to the council this evening.”

Non-union employees in the city will see a 5-percent salary increase as a part of the proposed 2024 budget.

But Bolden wants the city clerk’s position  paid substantially more, not just 5-percent more than the $64,773 that is specified in a 2023 salary ordinance. That’s the salary ordinance that covers elected city officials—the clerk, city councilmembers and the mayor.

No final decisions were made Monday night.

After the discussion of the clerk’s salary came some deliberations on the proposed salary for the city council’s administrator/attorney, Stephen Lucas.

The council appears to have already convinced the mayor to include in the 2024 proposed budget a substantial increase in the council administrator/attorney salary. After the meeting, Lucas told The B Square his understanding was that the increase for his position is 10.6 percent.

That would put the compensation for his position at around $104,000 for 2024.

In the proposed 2024 budget, the salaries for city councilmembers were erroneously left without the planned 5-percent increase, which would have meant a raise to $21,153 for 2024. But based on deliberations on Monday night, some councilmembers are looking to consider a more substantial increase for the position of city council.

Councilmember Dave Rollo said that based the information he had looked at, Bloomington city councilmembers are compensated “very poorly…much lower than the lowest quartile of city councils.” Rollo wants Lucas to pull together information about compensation for city councils in other second-class cities in the Hoosier state.

Bloomington city clerk Nicole Bolden wants the compensation for the position of city clerk to be more in line with the average of about $112,000 a year that department heads in the city government are being paid this year.

However, what is included in the proposed 2024 budget for the city clerk’s salary is the same 5-percent increase that other non-union employees in city government are set to receive.

Bolden ticked through the responsibilities of the city clerk which are defined in state law. “We sit beside you and we serve with you,” she told the council.

Among other duties, the city clerk: keeps the official records of the the city council; officiates marriages; certifies documents deeds, cemetery deeds; prepares and arranges public notices; serves as a satellite voting voter registration office; updates and maintains the Bloomington city code; and coordinates recruitment for city boards and commissions.

The clerk’s office also hears and adjudicates parking ticket appeals. In addition to Bolden, three deputy clerks serve in the office.

The budget that is currently proposed for 2024 was released by Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s administration late Friday.

That 387-page document foreshadowed the clerk’s opening remarks. About the amount in the budget for personnel in the clerk’s office budget book says: “The amount does not include the requested increase in the salary of the City Clerk in order to align with other department heads.”

The city council might have a choice to make when it comes to adopting the 2024 final budget—which is supposed to get a first reading on Sept. 27, and be cued up for adoption on Oct. 11.

That choice would involve a separate ordinance, which will be one of the pieces of legislation that make up the 2024 budget. There’s a separate salary ordinance, which gets a separate vote, and which “fixes” the salaries of the city elected officials—mayor, city councilmember, and clerk.

Fixing those salaries is a duty of the city council that is spelled out in state law. (Given that it’s the duty of the council to fix the salaries of the electeds, it’s not clear why the ordinance has historically been initiated and introduced by the administration.)

Councilmember Jim Sims noted his understanding of the limitations faced by the city council when it comes to increasing the dollar amounts in the mayor’s proposed budget. Sims put it like this: “We can approve the budget, we can reject a budget, we can reduce the budget. But we cannot increase the budget.”

Bolden took up the issue that Sims raised. Even if the council cannot, under state law, amend upward any of the appropriations in the final budget, the councilmembers could, Bolden told them on Monday night, specify a number in the salary ordinance that is larger.

“If you vote to increase my salary, then yes, you will see a different budget,” Bolden said.

When the question of the legal correctness of Bolden’s statement was put to council administrator/attorney Lucas, he said, “I’d want to research the issue in more detail.”

But Lucas did confirm that the statute cited by Bolden is the relevant one. Lucas added, “What I would need to think through, is if the council wanted to fix a salary above and beyond what’s been appropriated in the budget, how would that function?”

Weighing in from the public mic over Zoom to support Bolden’s request for better compensation  was Madalyn Sade-Bartl, who is clerk-treasurer for the town of Churubusco. Sade-Bartl introduced herself as immediate past president of the Indiana League of Municipal Clerks and Treasurers.

Sade-Bartl said she had researched the wages of other clerks in similar-sized communities and found that the clerk’s salary in Bloomington’s 2024 budget is less than in many of those places. Based on the compensation of department heads in Bloomington’s city government, Sade-Bartl said Bolden is “grossly underpaid.”

Bolden asked councilmembers on Monday to back her position by voting no on the standard motion that they consider for each presentation during budget week. That motion is to recommend inclusion of the numbers in a given presentation as part of the final budget.

Six voted no, with abstentions from three councilmembers—Susan Sandberg, Ron Smith, and Sue Sgambelluri.

In addition to the majority backing of the city council, the clerk has the support of the Monroe County Democratic Party chair, David Henry. In a letter dated, Aug. 26, 2023, Henry leads off by writing, “Today, I ask that the Mayor and Common Council consider the request of the City Clerk to adjust the salary of the City Clerk position to the same level as a departmental head in the City’s budget.”

Henry then clarifies in what role he is writing: “This letter comes not as a party statement, but the personal view of this chair.” Henry attended the first part of the Monday budget hearing, but was not able to stay until the end.

Another letter of support for Bolden came on Tuesday, from David Johns, who is executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition.

Johns writes to the mayor and the city council, “I am fully cognizant of the delicate nature of raising salaries, particularly for an elected official who serves in a dual role; however, I believe that a salary adjustment for the City Clerk is justifiable and imperative.”

Johns continues, “Nicole Bolden’s exemplary leadership, integrity, and commitment to public service serve as a testament to the kind of elected official we should all aspire to be.”

He adds, “Rectifying the city clerk’s compensation would be a conscientious step towards income equality, and the promotion of competent professionals seeking elected office without compromising their quality of life.”

Bloomington’s budget week continues on Tuesday starting at 5:30 p.m. with presentations from Bloomington Transit, city of Bloomington utilities, the fire department, and the police department.