The Walla Walla City Council took a misstep last week when it boosted the salary of City Manager Nabiel Shawa by 2 percent.
It’s not that Shawa hasn’t worked hard at a difficult job. It’s the lousy timing that’s troubling.
Walla Walla city government and all local governments in Washington state have seen tax revenues fall short of projections in the midst of the Great Recession.
As city leaders put together the 2013-2014 budget, things looked bleak. In November, at the Council’s first public budget work session, Shawa gave a report on his preliminary budget plan to cut one police officer, one fire prevention officer, close the Pioneer Park Aviary and raise property taxes by dipping into the banked levy capacity.
Shawa and the Council did their jobs. It is appreciated.
But as the city’s top paid official, the public spotlight is on Shawa. The City Council too. They have to set the right tone, particularly in these tough economic times.
The Council members used poor judgement in approving a $2,800 a year raise for Shawa as positions are being cut.
It doesn’t matter that city employees, depending on their jobs, received pay raises around 2 percent.
Positions went unfilled and other cuts are being made. Giving the boss $2,800 — bringing his salary to $142,800 a year — doesn’t set well. Shawa is now very well compensated. When he was hired in 2009 his starting salary was $30,000 more per year than previous City Manager Duane Cole, who made $110,000 after seven years on the job.
When the economy rebounds and city government isn’t looking at cutting people and programs, Shawa should be in line for a raise. That might be a substantial raise if the pay freezes have left him lagging his peers. It is important to offer a competitive wage to retain talented people.
But right now taxpayers are economically pinched. Many Walla Wallans haven’t received even a penny raise for three or four years. Others have had their hours and salaries reduced.
In politics, perception is reality. The perception here — true or not — is the Council is handing out raises to officials who are very well paid while it’s taking cops off the street and raising taxes.
Council member Chris Plucker was the only Council member to vote against the raise. He praised Shawa for his solid work as city manager, but he said he couldn’t approve the pay raise because of the budget woes and the slow recovery of the economy. Plucker hit the nail on the head as if he was using a 20-pound sledgehammer.
“It has nothing to do with Mr. Shawa at this time. And the work he does is fantastic. I just can’t vote in favor of it,” Plucker said.
Plucker’s fellow Council members should have followed his lead.
In tough times like these, taxpayers are watching how government spends every dollar. When $2,800 is spent this way at this time, it doesn’t feel right.