While 47th Ward Ald. Ameya Pawar has taken tremendous measures to be Chicago’s lowest paid Alderman, he has simultaneously hired the second highest paid Chicago chief of staff, who like him, has no Chicago city government experience.
A document released by Ald. Pawar to Center Square Journal this week details the numerous steps he has had to take with city bureaucracy to cut his salary from the typical $108,000 to his campaign promise of $60,000 a year. A PDF of Pawar’s salary reduction process is at the bottom of this article.
Because Aldermanic salaries are set by legislative action, Pawar is unable to simply direct the city to dock his pay. Instead he has arrived at a compromise, where he is taking sixty furlough days a year, or thirty for the the half-year of July to December. This will leave him with a six month salary of $30,771, slightly over the promised $60,000.
Pawar hopes to make his pay cut permanent by passing legislation this fall. In the meantime, his furlough solution is under threat by another budgeting plan that would eliminate furloughs for all city employees in exchange for across the board salary cuts. “That would not allow me to take furloughs next year. It may be that we take a salary reduction, that would a more reasonable cut anyway,” said Pawar.
While Pawar has cut his personal salary, he has chosen to pay his Chief of Staff, Charna Epstein, the second highest salary of any City Council employee. Center Square Journal reviewed aldermanic staff employee salary information provided by the City of Chicago, and Epstein ranked just below veteran senior staffers for Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) and Budget Committee Chair Ald. Carrie Austin (34th), but more than four thousand dollars in pay above the third highest paid staffer and about twenty thousand more than the average Council chief of staff.
Determined by annual budget legislation, in 2011 all freshman aldermen have the same staff budget of $176,484 as well as an additional $26,520 for contract employees. Each office also has a operating budget of $73,280 in 2011 that they can use for salary, rent, phone systems or whatever office expenses they deem necessary.
Most aldermen have trouble stretching their budget and augment it with campaign fundraising to hire additional constituent services staff.
“You work with a limited budget,” says Jeff Riley, who served as Ald. Brendan Reilly’s (42nd) first Chief of Staff. “Bare minimum, you need four people: a chief of staff, two constituent services people, some sort of receptionist, a scheduler.”
Because Aldermen work with a limited staff budget, if one person is paid highly, it reduces available funds for additional other staff.
“Your staff members are all working more than 40 hours a week,” said Riley. “No matter how good you can be at [chief of staff], it’s so multi-faceted, you can’t do it with just one person.”
“If you have a chief of staff overseeing the ward and City Council [work], one of those things is going to suffer.”
Pawar has staffed his office with just three four paid staffers, Epstein and two veteran three constituent services workers. Reception duties are handled by volunteers from the ward.
Yesterday, Pawar defended his choice to pay Epstein a high amount and have fewer paid staff by arguing that you get what you pay for. “[Epstein] ran a $200 million program for the Governor of Illinois. She ran the city’s Katrina response. She took a substantial pay cut to be here. $20,000 to $30,000 minimum.
“Considering it’s someone who ran a program with a budget over $200 million, we’re lucky to have them. I think we’re lucky,” said Pawar.
UPDATE (7/28 11:05 a.m.): Ald. Pawar responded via text message today, “The 173k is for 3 staffers and there are salary grades. I cannot hire more or less than 3. And, we do have a fourth–Jim Poole who is paid out of the 26k account.” When CSJ interviewed Ald. Pawar on Wednesday, he confirmed that he had only three employees. The story has been updated to reflect his corrected statement.