City Council unanimously approved Thursday an increase of more than $79,000 to each Council district and the mayor’s office budgets for staff.

That increase, bringing the total for staff to roughly $454,800 per office, comes with a set of guidelines for Council staff job descriptions and pay ranges.

The rules and changes made Thursday were: an increase to the full-time staff member pay cap; from $100,000 to $116,737; an increase to the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) workers from seven to 7.5, and a minimum $15 per hour for full-timers.

The pay ranges and staff titles for Council staff, often referred to as Council aides, are meant to serve as a baseline guide for Council members to use as they decide the salaries of their workers, who in all but a few cases are independent contractors selected by each Council member, not City employees. But Council members still have control over how much they pay their staff, the City’s Human Resources Director Lori Steward told the Rivard Report, “as long as they stay within the salary and FTE caps.”

The changes and guidelines, which have been discussed at length in previous Council meetings, were not discussed on Thursday as they were batched with other items on the agenda considered routine or settled among the members.

An analysis of current Council staff (as of earlier this month) by the Rivard Report shows that most positions roughly fit within the guidelines, but titles and responsibilities of each staff member can vary wildly among the district offices.

Jada Andrews-Sullivan (D2), for instance, is the only office with someone assigned to “Faith Based Outreach.” Melissa Cabello Havrda (D6), for instance, effectively has two executives: a chief of staff and zoning and a chief of operations. The mayor’s office has the same budget and FTE allocations but has additional executive positions who are City employees, and one position is currently vacant. Each district office has a secretary, who is a City employee.

Annual pay ranges from $12,000 to $45,000 for part-time Council aides. Council members have the ability to roll over budgets from previous years and can move money from special projects and travel funds to pay for staff and vice-versa, Steward said.

“Council members are still the employers of these positions so they have the ultimate authority and they’re responsible for complying with their budget,” Steward said.

Funding was approved last year as part of the fiscal year 2020 budget, but the increases approved Thursday aren’t effective until Feb. 1.

Council aides, as independent contractors, don’t receive the same pay increases or benefits received by City employees. Also unlike City employees, these contractors may – and often do – work on political campaigns.

Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), who led talks to increase Council aide pay last year during the City’s fiscal year 2020 budget discussions, said “the changes made today are a step in the right direction, but we have more work to do … to ensure equal pay for equal work.”

“I would expect that some of the Council members would be implementing pay changes this week,” Steward said.

That was the goal, Treviño said. “Council aides work long hours and perform multiple job descriptions and they should be compensated [as such].”

The ad hoc committee that formed to oversee the formation of the guidelines and new staff policies, of which Treviño is a member, will continue to meet to discuss health care benefits and other compensation that Council aides receive.

“Since [the committee was formed in October], we have met nine times to discuss this significant topic, which merits great consideration and discussion,” said Councilwoman Adriana Rocha-Garcia (D4), who chairs the committee. “I appreciate the work and commitment of the members of this ad hoc committee and look forward to the ongoing discussion regarding benefits for Council aides. Retaining the same level of transparency and fairness throughout the process will continue to be our priority.”

Even before the budget increase, not all Council members were using the full budget allocated for staff pay because some have vacant positions they are looking to fill and they want to save up for future pay increases and bonuses, Treviño said. He noted that he’ll be adding a staff member soon.

Andrews-Sullivan has the most unused budget, at $78,443; Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) has the least, at $429.

City rules now allow each Council member to have a maximum of 7.5 full-time contracted staff positions and pay at their discretion. They also can have two part-time employees workers as the equivalent of a full-time worker.

Eventually the FTE cap should be increased even further to eight, Treviño said.

The mayor’s additional staff, is another topic that Treviño hopes to address in the ad hoc committee.

The City hired Werling & Associates Inc. to perform a review of Council aide and comparable City staff salaries, but Council ultimately adopted the City staff-recommended job descriptions and pay ranges – which were higher than the consultant’s recommendations.

Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) said she appreciates the guidance that this analysis could give to new Council members, but hiring a consultant was a “waste of time and money.”

“If it was beneficial for [some Council members] to go through the exercise, then that’s fine, but I don’t think there was a need to hire an outside consultant,” Gonzales said.

Council members still have almost full autonomy to use their funding for staff, travel, or special projects as they see fit, she said.

If anything, there should be fewer restrictions, she said. “I don’t think there should be a cap on the number of people we hire or a cap on salaries.”

Iris Dimmick

Senior reporter Iris Dimmick covers City Hall, politics, development, and more. Contact her at iris@rivardreport.com

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