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One more twist in Verner's play for back pay

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Less than three months before outgoing Spokane Mayor Mary Verner asked the city to pay her a portion of her salary she had voluntarily given up, she signed a city ordinance banning council members from doing the same.

Recently obtained public records show that in October, Verner put her signature on an ordinance that set guidelines restricting how the City Council could forgo salaries. The ordinance is similar in nature to a law enacted by the state Legislature last year to combat the promises of political candidates peddling lower salaries as a campaign prop. Both laws state that candidates can only give up 3 percent of their salary; both laws also bar candidates from changing their mind later on and asking for that money.

Verner volunteered to take only $100,000 in salary each year in her four years as mayor, rather than the city’s full mayoral salary of $170,000. On Dec. 29, she requested $140,000 in back pay from the city for her last two years as mayor. If that wasn’t possible, Verner asked that her city pension be calculated as if she had earned the $170,000. The city denied both of Verner’s requests.

In a Facebook post she made in January, defending her request, Verner said she surrendered about $300,000 over her term.

“The job was about service, not about money, and the money I declined was put to good use keeping others employed,” Verner wrote.

In an email to The Inlander this week, Verner says a mayor’s signature on a new city council’s ordinance is just a formality. She also questions whether the newsworthiness of the ordinance.

“You seem to be digging quite deep to try to find something negative to say about me,” Verner says in the email.

Nevertheless, Councilman Ben Stuckart says he is open to the idea of creating similar guidelines for the mayor’s salary.

“I think you should stipulate that the mayor has to take the money,” he says. “I think once you start playing with the salaries, it becomes a little gimmicky. If you want to give, you can give back to the city, you can give to nonprofits, it’s up to you.

“She shouldn’t have asked for the money back,” Stuckart continues. “Once you give up your salary, you don’t ask for it back later.”

Current Mayor David Condon is taking $100,000 this year, but only because the city had budgeted for that amount. As for new mayoral salary guidelines, he says citizens already provide their own guidelines.

Says Condon: “It’s called the election.”

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