As Oakland faces the largest budget deficit in its history, members of the City Council’s finance and management committee Tuesday endorsed a raise to the mayor’s salary that would bump Mayor Sheng Thao’s pay by around $75,000 annually.

Oakland’s Human Resources Department recommended the increase, noting that the mayor’s current salary is lower than the salaries for city managers in six California cities with similar populations to Oakland.

A chart included in an agenda report accompanying a proposal to raise Mayor Sheng Thao’s compensation shows comparable salaries for city managers in six other California cities. (Source: Oakland City Administrator)

The Oakland City Charter, which determines the formula for setting the mayor’s salary, mandates that the salary set by the City Council should be no less than 70 percent and no more than 90 percent of the average salaries of the city managers in those six cities. The new recommended salary of $277,974.54 is the maximum of this range, and 37 percent above the mayor’s current salary of $202,999.94 per year.

Councilmember Janani Ramachandran said that the charter compares “apples to grapes,” as the mayor is a separate position from the city manager. While city managers are appointed rather than elected and have a more technical role, Ramachandran said, they usually make more money.

While Ramachandran opposed the current proposed figure, she said she supports the raise in general and would rather see an increase on the lower end of the charter’s spectrum of around 75 percent rather than the maximum.

‘Where is the money coming from?’

The proposal also comes at a time where the city has been forced to make cuts to key services and programs given its approximately $360 million deficit, Ramachandran said.

“We are experiencing the largest deficit in Oakland’s history,” Ramachandran said at the meeting Tuesday. “The question we need to ask is: Where is this money coming from?”

In the memorandum recommending the increase, the Human Resources Department stated that the increase in salary for the mayor is “being accounted for in the department budget as a part of the biennial budget planning” for fiscal years 2023-25.

The department further stated that the mayor’s salary should be increased such that an equitable and proportional distribution of pay is achieved, noting that one of the mayor’s subordinates currently makes more than she does.

“Most people have some level of evaluation that precedes a salary increase. That’s not happening here.”

Assata Olugbala, public commenter

Two members of the public came to the meeting to voice their opposition to the salary raise and both pointed out that Thao is only about six months into her term.

“She’s only been here for a short period of time,” member of the public Assata Olugbala said. “Most people have some level of evaluation that precedes a salary increase. That’s not happening here.”

Councilmember Nikki Fortunato Bas, who endorsed the proposal, noted that the council has not raised the mayor’s salary in 10 years.

Ramachandran was the only dissenter of the proposal, which was approved by Bas and councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan and Kevin Jenkins in a 3-1 vote.

The proposal will move forward to the full City Council on July 18.

Lydia Sidhom is a rising third-year at UC Berkeley studying Data Science and Political Science. She is a Dow Jones News Fund intern for Bay City News. Lydia was a lead beat reporter, deputy news editor and projects developer for The Daily Californian and will be a deputy projects editor there this fall. She enjoys telling stories through data. In her free time, Lydia loves to read, bake and travel.