Nagin wins pay raises for several key aides
5 salaries to match or exceed mayor's

By Frank Donze
Staff writer/The Times-Picayune

Less than two weeks after moving into City Hall, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin easily chalked up his first victory Thursday before the City Council, which gave him authority to boost salaries by substantial margins for several key positions in his administration.

With little discussion, the council unanimously approved changes to the city's pay plan that sets earnings for five top mayoral appointees at levels higher than or equal to Nagin's annual salary of $110,000.

Nagin said the adjusted salaries, which were raised from 17 percent to 84 percent, are in line with the "market rate" for similar jobs in comparable cities.

During his mayoral campaign, Nagin said higher salaries would be needed in some cases to hire top-notch administrators. Including the new technology post, current salaries in the mayor's office were increased by a total of more than $420,000.

But Nagin said those added costs will be offset by eliminating at least 10 percent of the more than 275 mayoral appointees now in the budget. A Nagin spokesman said the mayor does not anticipate the need for any further salary increases at this time.

While Nagin had the council's support, his revised pay plan drew criticism from a longtime advocate of higher pay for City Hall's rank-and-file employees, many of whom earn salaries below the federal poverty line.

"We are shocked at the level of the proposed raises for only eight positions at the management level of city government," said Wade Rathke, chief organizer for Service Employees International Union Local 100.

Rathke, whose union represents hundreds of city workers, said his membership is appalled at the "callous insensitivity to propose such mammoth increases without any recognition of the dire straits in which our public servants are doing their jobs."

Making his first official address in the council chamber as mayor, Nagin asked city workers for patience. Nagin said the task before his management team is to create and find savings in the budget that eventually can be used to increase wages across the board. "Over a two- to three-year period, hopefully we can bring all salaries to market rate," Nagin said.

Nagin, who earned $400,000 a year as a Cox Communications executive, is not seeking an increase in his salary.

At $150,720, the two highest salaries in Nagin's administration will go to Chief Administrative Officer Kimberly Williamson and Internet entrepreneur Greg Meffert, who Nagin has drafted to fill the newly created post of chief technology officer. Both have salaries on a par with Police Superintendent Richard Pennington, now the city's highest-paid department head.

Williamson, the first African-American woman to hold city government's No. 1 appointed job, is currently the executive director of the Downtown Development District. She is scheduled to join the Nagin administration May 27.

The new salary for the CAO's job represents a 64 percent increase.

Meffert, the former chief technology officer of iLumin Inc., a New Orleans software company, has said he is taking a substantial pay cut to work for city government.

Other positions that got an increase in pay are:

-- City attorney: $120,516, up 53 percent from $82,000. Under Nagin, the job is being filled on an interim basis by Mavis Early, an appointee of former Mayor Marc Morial. Nagin advisers say Early is expected to stay on through midsummer, when she plans to announce her candidacy for an appeals court judgeship.

-- Public works director: $120,516, up 75 percent from $68,900. The job is being filled by another Morial holdover, Ronald Ruiz.

-- Intergovernmental affairs officer: $110,484, up 84 percent from $60,060. Nagin has chosen former state Labor Secretary Garey Forster for the position.

-- Economic development director: $100,032, up 81.5 percent from $55,102. The post has been filled by Beth James, a colleague of Nagin's at Cox Communications of Louisiana.

-- Finance director: $80,988, up 26.6 percent from $63,960. Nagin has appointed Reginald Zeno, former chief of staff at the Regional Transit Authority, to the position.

-- Public information director: $60,108, up 17.5 percent from $51,145. Former television news anchor Patrick Evans has been appointed to the job.

Nagin's proposal passed on a 6-0 vote. Councilman Marlin Gusman was out of town.

"Congratulations, Mr. Mayor," Council President Eddie Sapir said after the vote was tallied. "You have a great day. I hope we started it good for you."

Councilwoman Renee Gill Pratt, who sits on the council's Budget Committee, asked that the mayor appear at some point before the committee to explain where the money for the raises will come from.

Sapir made it clear that he and the other council members trust that Nagin will find the money somewhere.

"At the end of the day, we know it's going to be a wash," Sapir said.

Frank Donze can be reached at or (504) 826-3328.
© The Times-Picayune. Used with permission.