Mayor remains in limbo on who should pay retirement contribution
Updated September 24, 2021, at 10:30AM: Clarifies that the 2019 public referendum did not cut the mayor’s salary, but only changed the City Charter to allow a city council to do so, which they immediately did.
Updated September 24, 2021, at 6:00AM and 9:30AM: Adds comments and context from council members. Clarifies that current code expires with current mayoral term.
MANDEVILLE — After almost an hour of debate, the City Council failed to take action on what seemed like a simple matter to correct wording in city code that would have put the mayor in the same category as all other full-time city employees where the taxpayers foot the bill for their contributions to the state retirement system.
After several failed motions to change the wording of the ordinance, the council could only agree to defer the matter.
According to state law, the office of mayor is a full-time employee and hence is required to participate in the Municipal Employee Retirement System (MERS). Some cities pay their employees’ contributions, other cities do not. Mandeville is a city that does.
But on November 21, 2019, the previous council voted to cut the mayor’s salary from $114,475 to $94,500, not including benefits.
This came on the heals of the passage of a November 16, 2019, public referendum to change the City Charter, allowing the city council to cut a mayor’s pay. Before the referendum, the council could only vote to raise the salary of a mayor.
The problem is, Ordinance 19-33 used flawed legal language, saying the “Mayor may participate” in MERS, which needs to be corrected to read the “Mayor shall participate,” putting it inline with state law.
Mayor Clay Madden served as a council member on that 2019 City Council. Madden went on record at this meeting (September 23, 2021) to say that the council did not make a mistake with the 2019 ordinance because they were unaware at the time that the mayor is legally considered a full-time employee. Former District II Councilman Michael Pulaski, who also served on the 2019 council, appeared at the meeting and echoed the mayor’s sentiment.
“I don’t think we made a mistake. We just were not informed. Maybe that’s a legal problem.” Pulaski said.
Yet the fact remains, Ordinance 19-33 does contain a technical mistake, which is the reason why a new ordinance was proposed in the first place.
The issue for some on the council was that Ordinance 21-39 specifies that the city — or taxpayers — would pay the mayor’s retirement contribution, just like it does for all other full-time employees.
Councilman at Large Jason Zuckerman and Council Members Jill McGuire and Rebecca Bush where ready to put the matter to bed. Zuckerman said he felt the issue of the mayor’s compensation had been thoroughly debated at previous meetings and the council needed to move forward.
Zuckerman, who currently serves as the council chairman, said the council would need to revisit the issue later to craft language that would affect the next mayoral term because the current code only addresses the current mayoral term. Also, Zuckerman, McGuire and Bush had all previously said it would be unfair to single out one full-time employee by not paying their share into the system.
However, Councilman at Large Rick Danielson and District II Council Member Skelly Kreller were against adopting the ordinance as is.
Danielson offered two different motions on the evening.
The first proposed to phase in the taxpayer contribution one-third each year until the mayor is back to 100% taxpayer funded. Kreller was outright against the city paying any of the mayor’s retirement, but went along on this motion. The motion failed 2-3, with only Danielson and Kreller voting in favor.
In responding to a question from McGuire, Danielson said part of the reason he favored phasing in the MERS funding for the mayor was that doing so all at once was the equivalent of about a 10% pay raise for the mayor while other full-time employees were only receiving a 2.5% increase this year.
During budget workshops in recent months as well as the September 9th meeting, Kreller had a number of dustups with Madden over budget-related issues, including a $10,000 raise for Executive Assistant Trilby Lenfant.
Danielson’s second motion on the night would have changed the wording of Ordinance 21-39 to read “the Mayor shall pay the Mayor’s contribution,” not the city. That motion also failed 2-3 along the same lines.
Seeing the council was at an impasse, McGuire offered a motion to defer the matter to the October 14th meeting.
McGuire said, “This meeting has brought up several factors that have come into play. I thought this was just going to be a formality… We’ve hashed this out. We’ve discussed and discussed this… But we debated it from a budget perspective.”
Zuckerman disagreed with that assessment: “I know we debated the merits of it not just from a budget standpoint because I kept bringing up the issue of it not being fair to single out a full-time employee … from a benefits standpoint.”
The motion to defer carried 3-2, with McGuire, Danielson and Kreller in favor.
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