The Albuquerque City Council enacted a $1.2 Billion dollar budget for the 2019-2020 that went into effect July 1, 2019. The City of Albuquerque employs approximately 4,800 to 5,000 full time city hall employees with 26 separate departments. The approved budget represents an 11% increase in spending over last year. Under the approved budget, general fund spending, which covers most city government operations, climbed $65 million to $642 million.
Buried in approved budget is that city workers were given a meager 2% pay raises, though those represented by unions such as Police and Fire received much bigger raises based on their units’ agreements. Last year’s city budget had 10.2% increases for police and this year’s budget includes $5 million for police raises and longevity pay.
UNGRADED AND GRADED CITY HALL POSITIONS
There are 223 full time “ungraded” positions at City Hall, who are in unclassified positions and “at-will” employees who can be terminated “without cause” and who work at the pleasure of the Mayor or the City Council. All City Hall Department Directors are “unclassified employees” and serve at the pleasure of the Mayor and can be terminated without cause.
The City of Albuquerque pays an average of $17.61 an hour to City Hall employees or $36,628.80 a year depending on the positions held and required education level and training levels. (40 hour work week X 52 weeks in a year = 2,080 hours worked in a year X $17.61 paid hourly = $36,628.80) Roughly 4,500 City Hall employees are considered “classified employees” who are covered by the city’s personnel rules and regulations and can only be disciplines or terminated with cause.
At the end of each calendar year, City Hall releases the top 250 wage earners at city hall. The list of 250 top city hall wages earners is what is paid for the full calendar year of January 1, to December 31 of any given year. In February, 2019, City of Albuquerque updated the list of the 250 top wage earners at City Hall. You can review the entire listing of all 25O wage earners by going going to the Albuquerque City Government web page at http://www.cabq.gov/ and search the 250 top wage earner list.
LUCRATIVE RAISES REPORTED
On May 14, 2019, KOAT TV Target 7 reported that Mayor Tim Keller had given his 5 top appointed and highest paid city hall administrators literally thousands of dollars in raises in March of between $13,500 and $20,000 year. The raises were given without informing the City Council nor the public through the media with a press release. The Keller Administration gave an after the fact justifications to the media for the raises.
The specific raises given by Mayor Tm Keller in March to his top 5 Administrators are:
Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair: a $20,000 pay increase resulting in a $190,000 salary.
Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Rael: a $19,000 pay raise resulting a $185,000 salary.
APD Police Chief Michael Geier: a $27,000 raise resulting in $187,000 a year salary.
Albuquerque Fire and Rescue Chief Paul Dow: an $18,000 pay raise resulting in a $150,000 yearly salary.
Chief Financial Officer Sanjay Bhakta: a $13,000 raise resulting in $131,200.01 salary
You can view the entire Target 7 report here:
Because Keller’s top 5 administrators and Department Directors are appointed by Mayor Keller, the City Council does not have to approve any of the raises. The approval of all the raises came from Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair, who had to approve her own $20,000 pay raise with Mayor Keller’s approval.
Back in May when the salary spikes reported, Mayor Tim Keller issued a statement through a spokesperson indicating all the raise he gave were needed for the city to stay competitive and the statement said:
“We looked at salaries for these positions throughout our region and found that, even after these raises, our salaries are much lower than those offered in cities in the region of a similar size. We also have to compete with the new state administration which pays higher salaries, and to which we lost several key people, and a city council that has given consistent annual raises. By offering more comparable salaries, our goal is to attract and retain talented leaders to serve the city of Albuquerque.”
A RAISE ON TOP OF A RAISE GIVEN
On July 1, 2019, the effective date for the Albuquerque City Council approved 2019-2020 City Budget, all city of Albuquerque employees received the 2% raise contained in the enacted budget. It has now been reported that upwards of 50 unclassified employees who serve at the pleasure of Mayor Keller and who received pay raises in March received another 2% raise on top of the first raise. You can review the report here:
High ranking Department Directors in March were given and average of a 6.2% pay increasing their average annual salaries to $118,959 a year. When it comes to percentages, the largest raises in the unclassified employee ranks of 6.2% went to Department Directors including Aviation Director Nyika Allen, Economic Development Director Synthia Jaramillo, Senior Affairs Director Anna Sanchez, and Solid Waste Director Matthew Whelan all who are now being paid $118,959 a year.
ACTUAL SPIKES IN SALARY
Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair was hired a year and a half ago by Mayor Keller at a negotiated starting salary of $169,556.80. She received an 11% increase in March and with the additional 2%, she is now paid $193,814 a year.
APD Chief Michael Geier was hired a year and half ago by Keller as interim chief, became permanent and his negotiated starting salary was $159,513.60. After the March pay increase and the additional 2% pay raise, APD Chief Michael Geier’s is now paid $190,736 annually.
Both Chief Operating Officer (COO) Lawrence Rael and Fire and Rescue Chief Paul Dow received 10.6% raises in March and then an additional 2% increase starting July 1, 2019.
COO Rael’s original negotiated starting salary when hired by Keller a year and 6 months ago was $165,524.80, and his salary it is now $188,718.
Fire and Rescue Chief Dow’s starting salary when hired by Keller was $132,000 and his salary is now $153,005 with the March raise and the additional 2% raise.
Chief Financial Officer Sanjay Bhakta was hired by Keller a year and 6 month ago at a starting salary of $131,200.01, he was given a 9% raise in March and with the additional 2% is now paid $147,909 a year.
COMPARING THE SALARY INCREASES TO PREVIOUS ADMINISTRATION
Following is the salaried paid all 5 that appeared in the February 2019 list of 250 top wage earners comparing their salaries to their predecessors at city hall:
Chief Administrative Office (CAO) SARITA NAIR: $169,556.80, now paid $193,814. Former Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry was paid $189,936.
Chief Administrative Office Chief Operations Officer LAWRENCE RAEL: $165,524.80, now paid $188,718. Former Chief Administrative Officer Michael Riordan was paid $152,319.
Albuquerque Police Department Chief MICHAEL GEIER: $159,513.60, now paid $187,000 a year. Former APD Chief Gordon Eden was paid $166,699.
Albuquerque Fire and Rescue Chief PAUL DOW: $132,691.20, now paid $153,005. Former Fire Chief David W. Downey was paid $138,993.
Finance Admin Svc CFO/Director SUNALEI BHAKTA: $131,200.01. Former Director of Finance Department Lou Hoffman was paid $99,732.
The Mayor’s salary and City Council salaries are determined by the Citizens’ Independent Salary Commission. Beginning January 1, 2018, the Mayor’s salary went from $103,854 a year to $125,00 a year. Mayor Keller is provided with a car, expense account as well as an APD protection detail. Eight Albuquerque City Councilors are paid $30,000 annually and the City Council President is paid $32,000 annually. The city council also increased their constituent contact fund from $5,000 to $20,000.
DEFENDING AND CONDEMNING THE RAISES
Not at all surprising, the Keller Administration is again defending the salary hikes, citing higher pay rates in state government and around the region. Keller’s Chief of Staff Santiago Chavez, said in a written statement:
“By offering more comparable salaries, our goal is to attract and retain talented leaders to serve the City of Albuquerque.”
The big difference now is that longtime Republican City Councilor Trudy Jones labeled the raises “disgraceful” and said “I believe it’s unconscionable. … We have some employees who barely get raises” and she pointed to the increasing disparity between those at the upper and lower ends of the city pay scale.”
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Republican City Councilor Trudy Jones called the Keller Administration raises “disgraceful”. What is disgraceful is that City Councilor Trudy Jones is nothing but a hypocrite. When Republican Mayor Berry did the exact same thing, especially when former CAO Rob Perry gave himself a $33,000 raise she kept her big mouth shut and raised absolutely no objection, let alone advocate more for lower paid employees.
The Albuquerque Journal also weighed in and criticized the Keller Administration raises in an editorial entitled “2-fer Raises Tone Deaf To Residents Paying $40M more in GRT”. You can read the editorial here: https://www.abqjournal.com/1347073/2fer-raises-tone-deaf-to-residents-paying-40m-more-in-grt.html
When the Albuquerque Jounral’s favorite Republican Mayor Berry did the exact same thing as the Keller Administration has done giving outrageous raises and when former CAO Rob Perry gave himself a $33,000 raise, the Journal Editor’s were noticeably silent refraining from any type of criticism, let alone advocating more pay for lower paid employees.
Former Republican Mayor Richard Berry was notorious for paying astronomical, out of line salaries to his top political operatives, especially during his second term in office. For example former Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry was paid $189,936 (#1 highest paid employee), former APD Chief Gordon Eden was paid $166,699 (#2 highest paid employee), former Chief Administrative Officer Michael Riordan was paid $152,319 (#4 highest paid employee), former City Attorney Jessica Hernandez was paid $150,217 (#5 highest paid employee), former Fire Chief David W. Downey was $138,993 (#11 highest paid employee), former Deputy Fire Chief Eric Garcia was paid $133,872 (#13 highest paid employee) and former APD Assistant Chief Robert Huntsman was paid $132,435.
The most disgusting pay increase Berry gave was a 22%, $33,000 pay increase to Chief Administrative Officer Rob Berry who was paid $190,000 a year and became the top paid city hall employee at the time. What made Perry’s raise so disgusting is that he made sure all other city employees were given pay cuts of 2% at the time or zero or 1% or 2% pay increases and even going so far as cancelling the negotiated pay increases for police officers. Berry justified his salary increases by using similar or identical arguments Keller is now using saying that the salary increases were needed to keep people from going elsewhere and retain talented leaders to serve the city of Albuquerque. Yeah, right.
NORMAL WORLD VERSUS CITY HALL
In the normal world outside of city hall, even in other government agencies and in the private sector, huge salary increases are associated with promotions, additional responsibilities taken on or exceptional job performance above and beyond the call of duty. The truth is that it is difficult to identify with any clarity exactly how APD Police Chief Michael Geier, Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Sarita Nair, Chief Operations Officer Lawrence Rael, Albuquerque Fire and Rescue Chief Paul Dow, and Chief Financial Officer Sanjay Bhakta have set themselves apart or have gone above and beyond the normal job performance required by their positions.
All those who Keller gave the raises to are essentially doing the same job they were hired for and none appear to be any real standouts. It’s likely all demanded more now that they have been on the job for 18 months. The argument the raises are justified to keep good people is as bogus as it gets seeing as they are at will employees and were not hired based on a national search and hired by Keller and they no doubt negotiated their own salaries when they started. Rael and Geier especially are long term city employees who have retired before and being paid with lucrative pensions, yet they demand more. In the meantime, an overwhelming majority of city employees get 2% raises, unless of course your police officer who gets much much higher pay increases and longevity bonus pay on top of the raises.
To be perfectly blunt, the salaries now being paid to APD Police Chief Michael Geier, Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Sarita Nair, Chief Operations Officer Lawrence Rael, Albuquerque Fire and Rescue Chief Paul Dow, and Chief Financial Officer Sanjay Bhakta now are probably the most they have ever been paid in their careers. At least 4 appointees were hired by Keller without a real national search to fill their positions and are considered Keller’s political operatives and “inner circle” of loyalist. The “national search” for a new APD Chief was considered by many as a sham with Geier always considered the front runner. Geier also has two other retirements that are vested. There was no need to attract many with pay in that they worked for Keller when he was state auditor.
Given all the recent stories on Albuquerque’s violent crime rates and the murders, the $27,000 raise for Chief Geier is highly questionable and very difficult to justify to the public. Adding insult to injury, APD Chief Geier decided not discipline APD’s Public Information Officer Simon Drobik for claiming massive amounts of overtime and being paid $192,000 in 2018, despite recommendations by the Police Oversight Commission he be terminated. What Geier and Drobik are being paid is considered nothing but a money grab, as is all the other pay raises in the double digits.
It is these types of out of line salary increases that creates a tremendous amount of animosity among the personnel of the city of Albuquerque. It is these types of raises that essentially tarnishes the reputation of elected officials by allowing their top paid administrators to engage in a money grab with the public perceiving poor performance, no results and even mediocrity.
Mayor Tim Keller prides himself in being well educated and a quick learner and said when he was running for Mayor he “had done good at all the jobs he ever held.” With only one year and six months in office, Keller has learned very quickly to make sure his political operatives are well taken care of by giving them out of line salary increases that approach what many city hall employees make in a full year.
Mayor Keller will now have to deal with the animosity among average city hall workers his pay raises will no doubt create. One thing is for sure is the 4,800 to 5,000 full time city hall employees who did not get raises do vote, as do their families, and Keller will have to decide was it worth it.
There is only one word for these raises and its GREED. An honorable thing to do at the very least would be for all the unclassified employees who were given the lucrative pay raises in March to turn down the 2% automatic pay increases and show a little respect to the average city hall employees who earn approximately $36,000 a years and who are not in Mayor Keller’s inner circle.
Working for the government in the public sector is normally public service at low wages, but with Mayor Tim Keller it’s called who wants to be a millionaire working for him at city hall as a top ranking official to cater to his every whim.