Cued up on the Bloomington city council’s meeting agenda for Wednesday (Sept. 6), is one item for a final vote.
It’s a resolution that expresses the council’s intent to set the elected city clerk’s salary for 2024 at $104,089, which would be a significant increase.
For 2023 the clerk’s compensation is $64,773.
Incumbent clerk Nicole Bolden is this year seeking reelection to her third four-year term. Bolden appears on the Nov. 7 ballot as the Democratic Party’s nominee. She is unopposed.
Wednesday’s resolution requests that Bloomington mayor John Hamilton accommodate the bigger amount into the final budget appropriations that he eventually submits to the council on Sept. 27. The final budget is set for an adoption vote on Oct. 11.
Also appearing on the Sept. 6 agenda is an ordinance that regulates obstructions of the public right-of-way. The ordinance about the right-of-way is up just for a first reading on Wednesday, which means it will not get any discussion by the city council.
It’s the ordinance that the board of public works recommended in mid-August that the city council adopt, in response to complaints about unhoused people blocking sidewalks with their belongings. The ordinance regulating obstructions of the right-of-way could get a vote the following week, at the council’s Sept. 13 meeting.
The 2024 budget that Hamilton released to the council on Aug. 25 included for the clerk’s position the same 5-percent increase as for all non-union employees.
The five-percent bump would increase the clerk’s salary from $64,773, which is specified in the 2023 salary ordinance, to $68,012.
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.
Included in the city council’s information packet are salary levels for clerks in other Indiana cities that were considered peers to Bloomington in a consultant’s study done in 2016–2017. The median clerk’s salary for those 11 cities is projected in 2024 to be about $74,600, or about $6,000 more than in Hamilton’s proposed 2024 budget for Bloomington’s clerk.
Based on the “whereas” clauses in the resolution, its sponsor Matt Flaherty has arrived at the much higher amount of $104,000 by comparing the clerk’s compensation to that of department heads in city government.
This year, the compensation for department heads like the director of utilities, chief of police, director of public works, and director of parks and recreation, among others, averages around $112,000 a year.
In the resolution, the department heads cited specifically as having a supervisory role parallel to that of the clerk are the legal department, human resources, and the city council’s own office administrator.
The city clerk has three deputies; the city’s corporation counsel has 12 full-time positions to supervise in the legal department; the human resources director has nine full-time positions to supervise; and the council administrator/attorney has three full-time positions to supervise.
Procedural analysis: Setting the clerk’s salary
Even if the dollar amount in Wednesday’s city council’s resolution is assertive, the procedural posture of the council is not as forceful as it could be.
Setting the salaries of city elected officials is a duty of the city council that is spelled out in state law.
Given that it’s a statutory duty of the city council to set the salaries of the city electeds, the salary ordinance for elected officials could be analyzed as belonging to the city council to initiate, instead of requiring an act of the mayor’s administration to put the ordinance in front of the council.
Not explicitly ruled out in state law is the possibility of setting the clerk’s salary in one ordinance, but setting the salaries of the other two elected offices—city councilmember and mayor—with a separate ordinance.
That would give the city council the flexibility to confront the issue of the clerk’s salary now—by approving the salary ordinance for the clerk sooner rather than later. The council’s own salary increase could still be put off until October. Some members of the council also want to see councilmember salaries boosted by more than this year’s 5-percent standard increase.
When it comes to appropriations, the city council can only reduce or leave alone the amounts proposed by the mayor in the final budget. But given that under state law, the salary ordinance is the city council’s to decide, Bolden’s legal position, as she laid it out last Monday, was that the council can fix the clerk’s salary, and the amount in the mayor’s appropriations would need to accommodate the salary.
Addressing the legal question last Monday, council administrator/attorney Stephen Lucas said he would need to research it in more detail: “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?”
If the council were to initiate an ordinance setting the clerk’s 2024 salary now, instead of waiting for the administration to propose one, that could possibly settle the question before Hamilton proposes the final budget on Sept. 27.
One scenario that could unfold is that the council would approve a salary ordinance setting the clerk’s salary for $104,089, the mayor would veto it, and the council would vote on whether to override the veto.
Last Monday, councilmembers did not talk about a specific dollar amount for increasing the salary of the clerk’s position. So it’s not clear if the resolution as currently drafted would have majority support this Wednesday.
But a more substantive increase for the clerk than the 5-percent bump that’s in the 2024 budget looks like it would have at least five votes on the nine-member city council.
Last Monday, Bolden asked councilmembers to vote against a recommendation to include the administration’s proposed clerk’s budget as part of the final spending plan submitted to the council on Sept. 27. No one voted yes. Six voted no, with abstentions by three councilmembers—Susan Sandberg, Ron Smith, and Sue Sgambelluri.
In addition to some basic sentiment on the city council in favor of a significant salary increase for the clerk, a letter of support for Bolden’s request has come from Monroe County Democratic Party chair, David Henry. Also sending a letter of support was David Johns, who is executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, based in Washington, D.C.