North Charleston leaders are expected to increase the city's mayoral salary to $193,880 — a 10 percent increase from Mayor Keith Summey's current salary of $176,225, and more than $8,000 above the salary of Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg.
The increase was recommended by Management Advisory Group, an outside firm contracted by North Charleston to review its administrative salaries.
The group also recommended raising council members' salaries by 10 percent, from $18,779 to $20,657.
City Council will meet at 7 p.m. Thursday at North Charleston City Hall to consider the changes. If approved, the increases would go into effect after the winners of the city's Nov. 5, 2019 election are sworn in. The salary would be paid to whoever wins the election.
State law dictates that salary increases for elected officials can only take effect after an election.
At a meeting last week, the only leader who commented on the proposed raises was Councilman Todd Olds, who simply told the mayor, "You deserve it."
Summey announced last week he plans to run for re-election in 2019.
Tecklenburg earns $188,722. He is also running for re-election next fall. No pay raises are planned, spokesman Jack O'Toole said.
Competitive salaries that keep up with market rates are a key to maintaining a skilled workforce, Summey said. He added that he isn't running for re-election for the pay.
"I think we need to stay somewhere within the norm for management positions of this size," he said.
Third-largest city, No. 1 paycheck?
North Charleston and Charleston are the only large cities in South Carolina to operate under a "strong mayor" structure, meaning their mayors are both elected officials as well as city administrators responsible for running day-to-day operations.
In other municipalities, mayors act more as council chairs and figureheads, while appointed administrators oversee the day-to-day workings of government.
According to data compiled by the Municipal Association of South Carolina, the biggest bucks follow the managers.
Columbia, the state's second-largest city, pays its part-time mayor, Steve Benjamin $76,550. Its highest paid administrator, however, earns $192,655 — more than either the current salaries of Tecklenburg and Summey.
Mount Pleasant, the state's fourth-largest city, pays its top administrator $181,188. And Rock Hill, the state's next-largest city, pays its top administrator $189,612.
"Not only is (Summey) elected, he runs the government," North Charleston spokesman Ryan Johnson said. "That's what informs the study, which informs council."
The 2019 election
To date, three challengers plan to run against Summey, according to the latest S.C. Ethics Commission filings.
The third, Ashley Peele, is a newcomer. Born in 1985, the North Charleston native is younger than the city itself, which was incorporated in 1972. If elected, she would be the city's first female and its first openly-gay mayor.
If approved, the new salary will be paid to whoever wins the election.
For a large city, politics here still can seem very local. Summey noted Peele's wife works in his dentist's office.
If Summey wins re-election in November, not only will he be the highest paid mayor in the state but he will be around to lead the city during its 50th birthday in 2022. He also was mayor in 1997, when the city celebrated its 25th anniversary.
NOTE: The salary for Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg has been updated to reflect 1.5 percent annual raises built into the city's last ordinance setting mayoral pay.