My compliments to the mayor
Dec. 2, 2013
by Ivan Raconteur

Maybe I am getting soft in my old age, but I can’t help complimenting the recent action of the mayor of my hometown.

It was an up-and-down sort of week for me.

First, I read that the Duluth City Council approved a $19,500 pay raise for the mayor.

That kind of news tends to raise my blood pressure.

My objection is related not to the job performance of the individual, but to the fact that it is so far out of line with what is going on in the city and state.

I was tempted to write a scathing letter to the editor of my hometown paper lambasting the council for being out of touch with its constituents, among other things.

Then I read the refreshing news that Mayor Don Ness refused to accept the increase.

Ness reportedly struggled with the decision, noting he tried to balance the well-being of his family and serving his community.

He said it just didn’t feel right.

Among other things, Ness reportedly said it would bother him to send his children to school, knowing some of their classmates’ families subsist on incomes that are about the same as the raise.

Ness also noted he has made a lot of tough decisions as mayor, asking others to make sacrifices to help solve the city’s problems.

He also questioned whether accepting the raise would affect his ability to lead.

I wonder how many of us would have made the decision Ness made.

It wasn’t just the amount of the raise. Ness said he would have declined a raise of any amount.

If we were placed in that position, would we stand on our principles and refuse an annual pay increase of almost $20,000?

It is not as if Ness is in poverty. His current salary is $78,000, and the increase would have raised it to $97,900, a jump of 25 percent.

Still, I suspect many people would have accepted the raise, and justified it by the fact that they work hard or do a good job for the city.

Many would also point out that the mayor’s salary in Duluth has not been raised in 14 years. Many would say this proves they deserve a raise.

Ness, however, chose not to take that path, and instead, focused on what residents already know.

Duluth is not a wealthy city. There are, and always have been, some extremely wealthy residents, but many city residents struggle with low incomes and limited resources.

Meanwhile, the city struggles to pay rising costs related to its aging infrastructure.

Still, it would have been easy for Ness to justify accepting the raise.

As City Councilor Sharla Gardener pointed out, if the mayor’s salary had kept pace with unionized city staff since 2000, his current salary would be $103,740.

Gardener argued that the mayor’s salary should be evaluated yearly.

The money that Ness refuses to accept will stay in the city’s general fund, according to David Montgomery, the city’s chief administrative officer.

The Duluth News Tribune reported City Council President Patrick Boyle stating he wasn’t entirely surprised by the mayor’s decision to decline a raise.

Boyle noted wages and salaries for many Northland residents have remained relatively stagnant since the recession hit in 2007.

I don’t know if I am ready to jump on the Don Ness Bandwagon. There are probably a number of issues on which we will disagree.

But on this issue, I am comfortable stating without reservations that Ness, as mayor of the fourth-largest city in the state, with a population of more than 86,000, exhibited clear thinking and exemplary leadership.

I hope other elected officials and public employees who depend upon taxpayers for their compensation will take note of his fine example in this case.

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