Mayor Cherelle L. Parker’s top deputies earn high salaries compared to their predecessors

Close advisers to Philadelphia’s novel mayor, Cherelle L. Parker, are among the city’s highest-paid public employees, with salaries exceeding $200,000 a year and, in some cases, exceeding the mayor’s salary.

That’s according to city salary data, which shows some of Parker’s top aides earn significantly more than their predecessors in the same or similar positions. The salary increases come as the mayor increased the number of people in his office and proposed increasing its budget by 150%.

An Inquirer analysis found that Parker’s 16 closest cabinet members earn a combined $3.5 million, about $1 million more than their colleagues under former Mayor Jim Kenney last year.

This jump is due to year-on-year wage increases, averaging around 16% and in some cases as much as 32%.

The highest-paid person on the organizational chart is novel Police Commissioner Kevin J. Bethel, who earns $340,000 a year, a 2.7% raise over former Commissioner Danielle Outlaw. His salary is the second-highest among police chiefs in the 10 largest U.S. cities and nearly $100,000 a year higher than the chief of the New York Police Department, which employs six times as many officers as Philadelphia.

One of the most significant raises among Parker’s top staff was for managing director Adam K. Thiel. The former fire commissioner who now oversees city operations earns $310,000 – a 32% an raise over his predecessor in the Kenney administration.

Two other top officials earn more than Parker herself, whose salary is $261,500. Atif Saeed, CEO of Philadelphia International Airport, earns $335,000 a year, a standard 3% raise over his salary last year. And Chief Public Safety Director Adam Geer, who coordinates the city’s anti-crime efforts outside the Police Department, makes $265,000, the salary required under the legislation that created the position last year.

Parker’s closest aides, whom she calls her “big three” – chief of staff Tiffany W. Thurman and deputy mayors Aren Platt and Fromré Harris – each earn $245,000 a year. That’s almost 16% more than Kenney’s chief of staff earned last year. Communications director Joe Grace earns $180,000, about 31% more than his predecessor.

All of these top aides – and a total of about two dozen employees in the mayor’s office – earn more than elected City Council members, whose salaries currently total $155,300.

” READ MORE: Philadelphia council members earn more than New York legislators

The pay raises for top workers hired by Parker were also significantly higher than the salaries of city officials employed in the Kenney administration. In most cases, people in the previous administration saw raises ranging from 3% to 7%.

Camille A. Duchaussée, chief administrative officer overseeing human resources, said in a statement that the top officials’ salary ranges were based on comparable salaries in other jurisdictions, cost of living and a review of current salaries by department size and scope. All salaries are within the ranges set by the Human Resources Office.

The administration wanted to make sure workers would be paid according to their “experience and professional credentials,” Duchaussée said, adding that the city was committed to “fair and competitive compensation across all job specifications.”

How Mayor Parker’s office is taking shape

Parker administration officials have previously said that salaries in the mayor’s office will likely increase to attract or retain talent in top management positions.

In March, the mayor proposed a $15.2 million mayor’s office budget, the largest year-over-year budget increase of any department. Most other city agencies would see little or no increase in funding under Parker’s plan, which still requires council approval.

The jump in spending for the mayor’s office is largely due to higher salaries – the average wage increased from $98,000 to $118,500, a 21% increase – and the creation of 74 new jobs.

“We are ensuring… wages are competitive,” Thurman said at the time. “It is important that municipal leaders and those working in the mayor’s office represent what we are looking for here, which is the best and brightest leadership.”

” READ MORE: Mayor Parker’s office received the largest funding raise in its budget proposal

However, almost all of Parker’s top officials were already living in Philadelphia when they were hired, many of them were current or former city employees, and some had worked directly for her in the past. Some of these choices were analyzed, including the appointment of the spouses of three Council members to a number of roles.

The Parker administration defended the hiring of members’ spouses. The mayor said she was “pleasantly surprised” that so many of her employees were from Philadelphia.

“These people simply had Philadelphia grit, determination and resilience. They just had it,” she said in December.

Of the more than 70 appointments Parker filled, a dozen were already in her political orbit.

At least seven people currently earning a city salary worked on Parker’s historic mayoral campaign, including Harris and Platt, who served as her campaign manager and political consultant, respectively. Five other campaign advisers are now also advisers at City Hall.

Hiring campaign workers for administrative positions is a time-honored practice. Most previous mayors have similarly filled their offices with people they know and are faithful to, as have executives at the state and federal levels.

Additionally, eight more people hired by Parker to work in her administration were previously employed by former Council President Darrell L. Clarke, who did not run for re-election last year. Four former Clarke staffers are among 11 special advisers to Parker’s chief of staff.

New CIO Melissa Scott has ties to Parker’s political coalition. In 2018, she ran unsuccessfully against progressive state Republican Chris Rabb, who was an antagonist of the Northwest Coalition. Scott’s appointment coincided with changes in the department led by former employees express concerns publicly.

Parker’s administration also includes novel community engagement and outreach teams, three of which are led by people who ran unsuccessfully for City Council seats last year. Donavan West, director of business roundtables at Parker, will lead the campaign to major employers. Will Mega is the associate director of Neighborhood and Community Engagement and Abu Edwards is the director of Black Men’s Engagement.

The mayor also hired a fourth former council candidate, Luz Colón, as one of six special assistants.

Duchussée, the chief administrative officer, said in a statement that the decision to appoint former campaign and council staffers “was based on related experience and continuity of operational and strategic knowledge.”

“Preferences were not applicable or available,” she said.

Salaries of other city employees are being reviewed

Meanwhile, the city has struggled to hire thousands of entry-level jobs, from librarians to emergency dispatchers, and union leaders say pay may be a key factor. The average pay for civil servants, who make up the majority of the 26,000 workers, was about $69,000 last year, according to city payroll data.

The administration’s spending projections assume that wages for civilian workers who are not represented by a union, meaning those who are not in uniform, such as police and fire departments, will raise by 4.5% this year. The city is in negotiations with the city’s two largest municipal unions, which represent other civilian employees, and a citywide wage study is underway.

During a March budget hearing, City Councilman Nicolas O’Rourke asked Parker administration officials about the mayor’s salary and whether front-line city workers would be offered proportionate raises.

Duchaussée said the city will review salaries on an ongoing basis and has contracted with an outside firm to conduct salary reviews in “several departments” to ensure salaries are competitive with comparable cities.

“We are absolutely committed to ensuring that our compensation is continually assessed,” she said, “to provide compensation that is acceptable and that contributes to our ability to recruit and retain talent.”

Inquirer writer Sean Collins Walsh contributed to this article.

An earlier online version of this article included information about Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw’s salary, which did not include the last raise she received about six months before she resigned. Two other pay raise percentages have been adjusted to take into account the novel pay data.

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