Lewiston’s city leaders may argue all day long they’ve not gone politically tone deaf.
But handing out lavish salary increases to a pair of top city hall appointees is hardly the way to prove it.
Monday, the city council bestowed upon City Manager Alan Nygaard a $16,295 pay boost, bringing his annual compensation to $154,400.
City Attorney Jana Gomez emerged from the same meeting with a 20 percent raise — to $120,000 — with the promise of another $10,000 next year.
It wasn’t unanimous and the next election may explain that development.
Three councilors who do not face the voters this fall — Mayor Mike Collins, Mayor Pro Tem Kathy Schroeder and Councilor Bob Blakey — voted for both raises. Councilor John Pernsteiner was absent.
The three incumbents up for reelection split: Ged Randall opposed both raises. Jim Kleeburg voted to raise Gomez’s pay but opposed Nygaard’s package. Cari Miller voted for both.
In any event, Lewiston’s top administrators are now earning salaries worthy of people who supervise state-level agencies.
For instance, State Insurance Director Dean Cameron makes $123,489.
The fellow responsible for everything that goes on in Idaho’s prison system, Correction Director Josh Tewalt, collects $160,014.
Susan Buxton, who oversees the state’s human resources division, gets $133,889.
And, of course, Gov. Brad Little is paid $138,302.
By the same token, Lewiston Schools Superintendent Bob Donaldson is earning $139,566.
You can call Nygaard the Russell Wilson of city managers. He certainly got the city off the dime when it came to replacing some of its aged infrastructure, notably the worn out water and wastewater treatment plants that left unchecked could have resulted in water rationing in some cases and water pollution.
You can suggest his raise is front-loaded. During the five years his new contract runs, it works out to about 2½ percent a year — not including the additional cost of living increases he’d receive.
And if he should leave for greener pastures, there’s no guarantee Lewiston would avoid paying Nygaard’s untested successor just as much.
With Gomez, you’ll hear the argument that she could make more money elsewhere. The praise for her efforts, however, also reflects an attorney who proceeds more like an advocate for her elected superiors than the citizenry at large.
In any event, Gomez’s compensation puts her in the top half for her profession in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley, where the median earnings for lawyers — according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics — is $91,228 a year.
Ask someone making the median wage in Lewiston — $36,670 — what he thinks of the new compensation package for the city manager and city attorney.
Go ahead and explain to the middle manager earning the median wage for her profession in Lewiston — about $65,000 — why the services Nygaard and Gomez deliver to the city are worth so much more.
By the same measure, take it up with someone earning the community’s median wage for nursing ($64,480), construction ($48,630), customer service ($32,012), day care providers ($27,230) or sales ($25,355).
Most of the people making that kind of money had to settle for a cost-of-living increase that, if tied to the official inflation rate, amounted to 2 or 3 percent. That includes city employees, who received 1.5 percent.
Once they got done paying the 40 percent spikes in city water and sewer fees needed to underwrite bonds for the projects, there wasn’t much left.
This has the look and feel of a city leadership that believes it knows best — an impression reinforced when councilors attempted to bypass an election on the water and wastewater plant bonding issue until the courts refused to go along.
They should not be surprised if the people who are paying the bills sees things a bit differently. — M.T.