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City clerk, treasurer defend 20.5% pay hikes

Risking a preelection backlash, City Clerk Anna Valencia and City Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin said Friday they will accept the 20.5% pay raises — to $161,016 — that Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s 2023 budget includes for the city clerk and city treasurer.

Seventeen of Chicago’s 50 City Council members have so far declined a 9.62% pay raise tied to the inflation rate that will boost the maximum annual salary for a Chicago elderperson to $142,772.

The alderpersons are afraid of how it might look to the voters many of them will face in the election Feb. 28.

Conyears-Ervin apparently has no such fears — even though she said she is “very sensitive to inflation. We all feel it.”

Under questioning Friday at City Council budget hearings, Conyears-Ervin noted the annual salary for the clerk and treasurer has been frozen at $133,545 since 2005 and that state law requires pay raises for elected officials to be approved before the election.

During that same period, the maximum aldermanic salary has risen from $95,000 to $142,000, the treasurer said.

“That’s a 50% increase over the past 16, 17 years. So while the clerk and treasurer’s role has an adjustment, it’s certainly well below — well below — a 50% increase,” said Conyears-Ervin, whose husband, Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), is among those accepting the aldermanic pay raise.

“If there was no increase, there would be five employees of mine that would make more than I. Even with this increase, these two gentlemen to my right will still make more than I.”

Valencia was equally unapologetic.

“If the ordinance passes, which is up to the aldermen in this body, I will accept it,” the clerk said.

“I love the work. I do the work like all of you. And I felt … whatever [everyone] felt was fair and equitable, I was going to agree to. … I was told that it would be capped at a 5% COLA and it would not kick in until 2024, and I know that state statute says that this would not take effect until May. So, whether it’s me and I’m lucky enough to be the city clerk or the next clerk, it would be a fair adjustment.”

Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) put both women on the spot about the pay raises after noting that “17 of us here decided to forego our raises and three of us have an ordinance pending that would prohibit any commissioner or elected official” from getting a raise next year.

“With the cost of inflation right now and many people struggling to make ends meet, I think it’s important as leaders that we forego these raises. I respect my colleagues who chose not to. But, personally, I think it’s an important statement to make,” he said.

Reilly further noted that, although Lightfoot raised the pay for the clerk and treasurer, she froze her own annual salary at $216,210, where it has remained since 2005.

After declining the aldermanic pay raise, Ald. Marty Quinn (13th) was having trouble understanding the rationale for accepting more than twice that much.

“I’m just obviously concerned about optics and 20%. …Today [with] inflation being what it is just raises that question,” he said.

Southside Ald. David Moore (17th) appreciated the treasurer’s candor.

“The city clerk did her best in trying to explain to us, but you broke it down like a 2-year-old to us,” Moore told Conyears-Ervin.

“It makes even more sense now. I was saying something in my head prior. But the way you just broke it down, it clearly makes sense. … I can go to my residents and I can defend that.”

Also during the budget hearing, several seniors vowed to reverse a 20% reduction in funding for a CityKey ID program that is more important than ever with the influx of immigrants arriving from Texas, Florida and other states.

The $227,188 reduction leaves the total budget for Chicago’s municipal ID program at just over $925,022.

“We’re at 2,200 arrivals so far. New York and DC are over 10,000 each. I don’t think this is gonna stop anytime soon. I could see an escalation potentially from the Texas governor and maybe copycat governors after that. I’m really worried that you don’t have the necessary resources in this proposed budget to be able to handle that,” said Ald. Mike Rodriguez (22nd).

The clerk also announced that guest parking passes in scores of Chicago neighborhoods with residential permit parking will be available for purchase on a mobile app during the second quarter of 2023.

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