Is County Council's 15 percent raise justified?

Posted at 11:38 PM, Feb 19, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-19 23:38:38-05

The Cuyahoga County Council’s decision to increase the future salary of its members from $45,000 to $52,000 a year was met with criticism from constituents, who question whether the 15.5 percent raise is necessary for the performance of the part-time position. 

The Feb. 9 7-4 vote in favor of the raises resulted in hundreds of outraged calls, posts and tweets by constituents on and other social media sites. 

The pay raise will take effect in 2019, after the next council election. 

The measure for the part-time council positions also includes a provision that would raise all salaries annually, beginning in 2020, by the percentage increase given to non-union county employees or the percentage increase of the Consumer Price Index, whichever is less.

It does not appear County Executive Armond Budish will veto the measure and his office was unable to facilitate an on-camera interview. 

This week a spokesperson issued the following statement from Budish:

“When asked, I said I did not want the Executive included. As passed, this is an issue of internal council management.  Council can manage its affairs within the budget constraints.” looked to Pittsburgh’s Allegheny County for comparison. It was the Allegheny County Council that Cuyahoga’s County Council was modeled after when it was created in 2011. 

In Allegheny County, council members are paid $9,000 annually, less than a fifth of what Cuyahoga County council members will make in 2019. 

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald told that the council has been successful and productive at the $9,000 salary. He noted that the salary has been frozen since 1998 and a raise might be in order. He suggested an increase to $20,000. 

Council members like Pernel Jones Jr., who voted for the $52,000 salary, said that the comparison to Allegheny County is unrealistic because it is a smaller county with a smaller budget. 

“It’s called part-time, but this is a $1.3 billion budget and we’re not a small municipal government,” Jones explained. 

But according to 2013 census numbers, Allegheny’s population is just 2.5 percent smaller than Cuyahoga County. 

Cuyahoga’s operating budget is more than 30 percent larger.

Political analysts like Tom Sutton, a political science professor at Baldwin Wallace, argued that the discrepancy doesn’t warrant a salary that is more than five times greater. 

“I think in general, the argument is somewhat weak and politically it’s certainly unpalatable,” Sutton said. 

Council members Jack Shron, Sunny Simon, Michael Gallagher and Dave Greenspan felt similarly, voting against the measure. 

“This legislation maybe came a bit premature in my mind,” District 1 Council Member Dave Greenspan told

Some council members noted the economic atmosphere in the county, which faced the prospect of a multi-million dollar deficit this year.   

Although Greenspan acknowledged that the commitment is much larger than the “part-time” job reflected in the charter

Greenspan said he spends between 40 and 60 hours a week in his role, which includes attending community events and town hall meetings that are not outlined in the duties listed in the charter. 

Sutton argued that the amount of time public officials spend on their roles shouldn’t necessarily dictate the salary paid by tax payers. 

“Even for school board members, you have some who put in the bare minimum and others for whom its almost a full-time job,” he said. “It’s just how they handle the responsibility and they shouldn’t necessarily expect to be rewarded financially for going above and beyond.”  

Joining Pernel Jones in voting for the measure were Dan Brady, Dale Miller, Chuck Germana, Yvonne Conwell, Anthony Hairston and Shontel Brown.

Jones said he did not vote to raise his own salary because the new salary won’t go into effect until 2019. But Jones also acknowledged that he plans to run in 2018.