Mayor says he should be paid about $80,000 annually

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 7, 2002

[08/07/02]When a vote is taken Friday, Vicksburg Mayor Laurence Leyens said it should be to raise his pay to about $80,000 a year, not $67,000, but he is hesitant, he admits, about reversing the position on salaries he took during last year’s campaign.

An $80,000 salary would make Leyens, as CEO of the state’s ninth-largest city, the state’s second highest-paid mayor. Jackson’s Harvey Johnson is paid $120,000 annually via a raise made effective at the start of his second term in July 2001.

“I think the right answer is to put it in the 80s or do nothing,” Leyens said in an interview Tuesday, a day after a board meeting in which the pay of the city’s elected officials was discussed.

South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman made the proposal. It would increase salaries by $10,500, bringing the mayor’s to $67,032 and the aldermen’s to $55,992. If passed when the board meets Friday, the raises would go into effect in about 30 days.

Leyens said Tuesday Vicksburg is most comparable to Southaven, near Memphis, where the population is about 20,000. Southaven’s mayor is paid $70,000 and aldermen, $12,360.

But a reason for the difference is Southaven has a mayor-council form of government unlike Vicksburg’s modified mayor-commission form. In Southaven, as in Jackson, the mayor has no vote on the council and acts as a full-time city manager. The seven aldermen who make up the council are strictly part-time.

In Vicksburg, the three elected officials have equal votes on the city board, which combines legislative and executive powers. Despite the difference in the governments, Leyens said the cities are similar.

“Southaven has a comparable community and smaller government,” Leyens said.

North Ward Alderman Gertrude Young said she supports the raise amounts presented by Beauman, but said she would have problems with voting for a $20,000-a-year raise for the mayor.

“I understand where the mayor is coming from,” Young said. “But, I really can’t support that salary increase.”

Beauman said he came up with his figures after looking at different cities around the state and the local school district. He said the closest comparison to the mayor’s salary he could find was the athletic director of the Vicksburg Warren School District who is paid $58,265 a year.

“How can the director of athletics be comparably paid to a mayor or an alderman?” Beauman asked.

“I think they’ve (school district) simply done a better job of keeping up with compensation than the city or the county,” he said.

In May, the city also commissioned a study of municipal pay scales throughout the region by The John C. Stennis Institute of Government. The study, which included all municipal employees, indicated an average mayor’s salary of $62,250 in 17 cities with similar population in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee.

The highest pay in that study was $82,580 for the mayor of Florence, Ala., where the population is 36,264. Beauman said he does not know if he will support $80,000 a year for the mayor of Vicksburg.

“If I vote for a raise Friday, it’s going to be because I think it’s right and I’ve done my homework,” he said. “I’m going to have to have a rationale.”

Still, Beauman said he does support raises for the mayor and aldermen.

“You cannot compare the mayor and aldermen to the CEO of a $50 million corporation,” he said. “If he screws up, he gets fired. If we screw up, we go to jail.”

In candidate questionnaires last spring, Leyens, Beauman and Young said they had no objection to an ordinance, matching many others, that would make pay adjustments only when administrations change. No such ordinance has been considered, however.

In the same questionnaire, Leyens said people shouldn’t run for office unless they are willing to accept the pay it offers. Thirteen months into his term, Leyens said, “I’ve changed my mind and it feels wrong, but I didn’t have a clue what I was getting into.” He added he will probably vote for the increase although he expects a backlash.

“What I’m saying is let’s stop being scared of what everybody thinks,” Leyens said.

City officials are also suggesting an automatic 2 percent raise for the mayor and aldermen. That would mean another increase in July 2003, but Beauman said the amendment presented Monday incorrectly stated there would be another raise in 2004.

Beginning with the next administration, which takes office in 2005, the mayor and aldermen’s salaries would increase the second and third year of their terms. Their salaries would be capped by the city ordinance at $85,000 for the mayor and $74,000 for the aldermen.

Those amounts would be reached in 2021.