Maintaining the Public Trust While Making Tough Choices: ICMA's Executive Director Discusses His Organization's Guidelines to Ensuring Fair Compensation

Article excerpt

In our quest for better, faster, and cheaper government, it can be easy to lose sight of the fundamental values that underpin our commitment to public service.

Those values--honesty, trust, transparency, integrity, and accountability -were challenged this past year as the Bell, California, salary scandal unfolded and threatened to irreparably tarnish the image of local government and its elected officials and employees, specifically city, town, and county executives.

These fundamental public service values were recently reaffirmed by the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) membership in the form of a set of concrete guidelines that establish a best practice for determining and negotiating compensation for local government executives and staff. The guidelines also clarify the roles and responsibilities of the governing body, the local government executive, and employees.


The standard practice for establishing the compensation of local government executives must be fair, reasonable, transparent, and based on comparable regional and national public salaries.

When negotiating compensation, local government executives have an ethical responsibility to be clear about what is being requested and to avoid excessive compensation.

Compensation should be based on the position requirements, the complexity of the job within the context of the organization and community, the leadership needed, labor market conditions, cost of living in the community, and the organization's ability to pay.

Elected officials perform a critical governance role by providing oversight of the management of the organization. To that end, they must be engaged in establishing the process for determining the compensation for all executives appointed by the governing body.


During any salary negotiation, elected officials and local government executives should:

1. Determine the job requirements and experience needed to successfully perform them.

2. Examine market conditions to learn what comparable public-sector executives earn. One best practice would be to gather information from predetermined, comparable benchmark local governments or public-sector agencies.

3. Evaluate the individual's qualifications in context. Understand the services provided by the local government, along with the nature of the current issues in the organization and in the community, and then compare these with the individual's expertise and proven ability to resolve those issues.

4. Identify the local government's current financial position, its ability to pay and the existing policies toward compensation relative to market conditions.

5. Factor in the individual's credentials, experience, and expertise.

6. Consider unique and special circumstances such as additional compensation in areas where the cost of living is high and the governing body wants the executive to reside within the community. …


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