Interim compromise on Bloomington city clerk’s salary: $87K not $104K

No final decision was made on Wednesday night, but Bloomington’s city council took a clear step towards giving the position of elected city clerk a big salary boost.

On a 7–2 vote, the council passed a resolution indicating its intent to set the clerk’s salary for 2024 at $87,000 . That would be a 34-percent increase over the $64,773 that the job pays this year.

Dissenting were Steve Volan and Kate Rosenbarger, who supported a higher figure of $104,089. The bigger number was in the original draft of the resolution put forward by Matt Flaherty.

Flaherty and Isabel Piedmont-Smith joined Volan and Rosenbarger in voting against an amendment put forward by Dave Rollo and Sue Sgambelluri, which decreased the amount to $87,000.

Unlike Volan and Rosenbarger, Flaherty and Piedmont-Smith were willing to support the compromise figure.

As Flaherty put it, “I can’t really support…the amendment—though, of course, if it passes, would support the resolution as a whole.” He added, “As a step forward, it’s better than nothing.”

Bloomington’s city clerk is Nicole Bolden, who is seeking re-election to her third four-year term this year. She is unopposed on this year’s Nov. 7 ballot, as she was in the Democratic Party’s primary. That’s the same pattern as in 2019 and 2015.

Bolden spoke on Wednesday night in support of the salary increase for the clerk’s position, noting the awkwardness of doing so.

As a part of her presentation to the city council on Monday last week during departmental budget hearings, Bolden noted that she had requested that Bloomington mayor John Hamilton include a substantial increase for the clerk’s position in his proposed 2024 budget. But Hamilton included for the city clerk the same 5-percent increase as for all non-union city staff.

The basic point of disagreement for councilmembers was over the question of whether the clerk’s office should be considered like a city department—along the lines of the legal department, the fire department, the public works department, among others.

The clerk’s office is like a city department, Flaherty said, and the clerk should therefore be paid like the head of a department.

This year, the compensation for department heads averages around $112,000 a year.

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 his remarks, Rollo said he does not see an equivalence between the clerk’s responsibilities and those that are typical of department heads. Rollo cited the recently released 2024 proposed budget book.  “I would invite the public to look through the 2024 budget, where there is a demonstration of the various department heads in terms of their duties and responsibilities.”

Rollo suggested that the public compare the duties and responsibilities of department heads with those of the city clerk. As far as some kind of equivalency, Rollo said, “I don’t see it.” He continued, “It’s not to say that the clerk is not in an important position for the city and doesn’t deserve good compensation.”

Rollo issued a challenge of sorts to other councilmembers who see an equivalence: “I’d like to see the data.”

Flaherty responded by saying that it should be assumed that the clerk is equivalent to a department head, and the onus is on those like Rollo to provide the data showing that the clerk’s job is not equivalent to a department head’s job.

Flaherty put it like this: “The same question could be asked in reverse: What’s the data-driven case to say they are not? And I don’t think that case has been made, either.”

The default assumption should be that the city clerk is a department head, Flaherty said. He put it like this: “There’s a presumption that if you head a department, you’re a department head.”

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.

Flaherty said that the data in the salary comparison was not relevant to the question of whether someone should be considered a department head. About the salary comparison to other elected clerks, Flaherty said, clerks in other cities had also likely been undervalued. He said, “I worry that benchmarking to existing salaries of clerks in other cities feeds into an existing systemic inequity. It enshrines it by embracing that as the standard. I think the position is probably undervalued and historically undercompensated everywhere.”

When he voted against Rollo’s amendment to lower the amount in the resolution to $87,000, Volan indicated he would also vote against the amended resolution. “I will be voting against the resolution, because I know that we can change the salary ordinance itself.” Volan added, “And we should change the salary ordinance.”

Volan was referring to the fact that the salaries of city elected officials is a duty of the city council that is spelled out in state law.

The council’s resolution just was a way of telling the mayor that it intends, eventually, to set the salary for the clerk at a specific level—with the hope that the mayor will put the same number in his proposed salary ordinance that is put in front of the council on Sept. 27. The budget package is supposed to get a final vote on Nov. 11.

So the council still needs to take a vote on the ordinance setting the salaries for elected officials, in order to set the clerk’s salary at a specific level. There’s still a chance that it could be a higher or lower figure than the $87,000 that was in Wednesday night’s resolution.

In the past, the city council has typically waited for the administration to put in front of it the ordinance that sets the salaries for mayor, clerk, and councilmember.

But on Wednesday, responding to a question from Volan, administrator/attorney Stephen Lucas said he does not think the salary ordinance for elected officials has to originate from the mayor’s office.

But Lucas pointed to some practical limitations imposed by the typical timing that the mayoral administration and council have used, to enact the package of budget legislation. By the time the city council votes to adopt the six separate pieces of legislation that make up the budget, which include appropriation ordinances, the information about the appropriations has already been submitted to the state.

The idea is that even if the council increased the compensation indicated in the salary ordinance for elected officials, there might not be sufficient money in the administration’s appropriation ordinances to cover the bigger amount for the entire year. The council can cut, but not increase, the amount of the administration’s proposed appropriations.

Volan responded to Lucas by indicating a belief that if a scenario unfolded where there were insufficient funds to cover the salary, then sometime next year, an additional appropriation could be put in front of the city council, when it was needed.

On Wednesday, the council could have been considering an ordinance that sets the clerk’s salary instead of just a resolution indicating its eventual intent.

Flaherty had led off his presentation of the resolution by acknowledging the council’s statutory duty and ability to set the annual compensation for elected city officers, including the city clerk.

Flaherty said the approach of adopting a resolution recognizes that the salaries need appropriations to back them. Appropriation ordinances are the responsibility of the administration to propose.

So Flaherty concluded that the “more appropriate way” to proceed would be to express formally the council’s intent, and to request that the mayor make the necessary changes to his proposed budget to accommodate the request.

4 thoughts on “Interim compromise on Bloomington city clerk’s salary: $87K not $104K

  1. My question is why the mayor only recommended a 5% increase for the clerk? Is there an undercurrent here to which we are not privy?

      1. That sounds pretty lame. Does the clerk deservea raise or not? You worked in the office. What do you think?

      2. Referring back to the August 29th report of the BSquare Bulletin: “That 387-page document [proposed 2024 city budget] 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.’ ” So, apparently, there was a requested increase to be considered but the amount was omitted in the budget submission. Yet the council administrator/attorney’s 10.6% raise was in the budget?

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