Strickland defends salaries for high-ranking employees in his administration

Published: Jan. 5, 2016 at 12:22 AM CST|Updated: Jan. 5, 2016 at 4:16 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Mayor Jim Strickland defended the salaries of high-ranking employees in his new administration Monday, saying he increased salaries to attract top-quality people.

Strickland cut 10 jobs, including multiple deputy director positions and the entire Memphis Music Commission, to free up $1 million in funds. He said about a third of that money will be used to pay increased salaries and a few newly-created positions.

Chief Operations Officer Doug McGowen will make $155,000. That's $12 less than the $155,012 than his predecessor, Jack Sammons, made. Police Director Toney Armstrong will make $150,000. That's $24,000 more than he made working for Mayor Wharton. Chief Finance Officer Brian Collins will make $140,000, which is $9,000 more than the position previously paid. Chief Human Resources Officer Alexandria Smith will make $140,000. That's an increase of $15,000. Chief Communications Officer and former WMC Action News 5 anchor Ursula Madden will be making $140,000. That's more than $60,000 more than Wharton paid his spokeswoman.

Strickland has also created a Deputy Communications Director position for former Commercial Appeal reporter Kyle Veazey. He will be earning $75,000.

The new City Attorney, Bruce McMullen, will be earning $90,000, but he is only getting paid part time.

But, some people are not sure the new administration leaders have earned their big salaries yet.

"They're new, so they haven't done anything to justify these raises," Alice Batts said.

Batts isn't ready to say leaders in the Strickland administration don't deserve impressive pay. She just doesn't know why they should get more than those in the Wharton administration.

"They should have started off where they were, and then once they proved that they were worthy of these raises, then yeah," Batts said.

Melissa Sauers questions the reasoning behind the salary numbers.

"If you do want to serve in a public role where you're going to actually help the community, then you should be making the same that people that put their lives on for the community make, if not less," Sauers said.

The average salary for police officers and firefighters is about $53,000.

But, the boss usually makes a lot more than their employees and Mayor Strickland said the numbers are not as big as they seem.

"The small increases have been greatly offset by cuts in other parts of the budget," Strickland said. "So we're going to operate city government with fewer people."

Plus, he said those salaries are still lower than comparable positions in other government agencies.

Batts said she won't complain if the people in those positions prove their worth. But in a time when so many other city employees are taking cuts, she thinks the money could be better used elsewhere.

"If he could find that money for that, he could have found that money for policemen's and firemen's pensions," she said.

Those at the top of the Strickland administration are pulling in roughly three times as much money as the average household in Memphis, which earns just under $37,000.

The Memphis City Council is expected to approve the mayor's appointments and their salaries at its regularly scheduled council meetings on Tuesday.

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