Whether the compensation of our cities’ executives and department heads is exorbitant or competitive is a matter of perspective, but there’s no question that the salaries of these top earners have always commanded our fascination. What’s different from past years is that elected officials have started talking about pay at the bottom rungs of local government as a matter of social justice instead of just cost containment.

[Starting salaries]

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Firefighter

1. Greensboro — $33,483

2. High Point — $33,184

3. Winston-Salem — $32,091

Winston-Salem has partially closed the gap in starting pay for firefighters — up from $31,345 — with Greensboro and High Point, although it still ranks last.

Police officer

1. High Point (police officer I) — $36,585

2. Greensboro (police officer I) — $35,556

3. Winston-Salem (police officer trainee) — $33,856

The city of Winston-Salem’s lowest category for sworn officers is for police officer trainees with a high school diploma. But once the six-month training phase is completed, police officers with a high school diploma earn $35,549 — practically the same amount as their counterparts in Greensboro. And pay for Winston-Salem police officers increases with their level of education, with an officer holding a bachelor’s degree who has completed training earning a minimum of $39,193.

Crime scene (police)

1. High Point (crime scene technician) — 34,844

2. Winston-Salem (crime scene technician) — $34,030

3. Greensboro (crime scene investigator) — $33,253

Custodian

1. Winston-Salem — $22,880

2. Greensboro — $21,233

3. High Point — $20,372

Minimum pay for a custodian in Greensboro is the equivalent of $10.21 per hour — less than the new $12 per hour minimum wage. Communications Manager Jake Keys said that in practice the city pays more than the minimum, and the human resources department runs reports each pay period to ensure that no benefited employee is paid less than $12 per hour.

Laborer

1. Winston-Salem — $22,880

2. High Point — $22,460

Casual laborers and fair laborers in Winston-Salem earn an hourly wage of $10.10, equivalent to $21,008 per year, despite the new $11 minimum wage mandated in the current budget.

Sanitation operator (garbage truck driver)

1. High Point (sanitation equipment operator) — $28,664

2.
Winston-Salem (sanitation equipment operator) — $27,248

3. Greensboro (solid waste operator) — $27,144

All three cities have increased pay, and Winston-Salem garbage truck drivers have overtaken their counterparts in Greensboro since last year.

Sanitation laborer

1. High Point (sanitation worker) — $24,762

2.
Winston-Salem (sanitation laborer) — $22,880 (equivalent to $11 per hour)

Winston-Salem sanitation laborers have modestly closed the gap with their counterparts in High Point thanks to the new $11 per hour minimum wage approved by city council.

Landfill

1. High Point (landfill equipment operator) — $31,604

2. Winston-Salem (landfill mechanic) — $30,613

3. Greensboro (landfill tech) — $27,144

Meter reader

1. Winston-Salem — $27,248

2. Greensboro — $25,368

3. High Point — $23,583

Parking attendant

1. Greensboro — $23,858

2. Winston-Salem — $22,880

3. High Point — $22,460

Rec Center director/supervisor

1. High Point (recreation center director) — $40,335

2.
Winston-Salem (recreation center supervisor) — $36,492

3. Greensboro (recreation center supervisor) — $35,580

Grillroom attendant

1. High Point — $20,372

Planner

1. Greensboro — $41,117

2. Winston-Salem — $40,620

3. High Point — $40,335

Code enforcement officer

1. High Point — $36,585

2.
Winston-Salem (zoning code enforcement supervisor) — $36,099

3. Greensboro — $35,580

Zamboni driver

1. Winston-Salem — $21,008 (equivalent)

Groundskeeper

1. High Point — $23,583

Library

1. Greensboro (library associate) — $27,144

2. High Point (library assistant) — $24,762

Inching towards a $15 per hour minimum wage

As Democratic candidates for national office held a spirited primary debate over raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour during the recent primary, elected officials in Democratic-controlled city councils in the Triad wrestled with the same question at the local level, taking modest action while pledging to do more in the future.

Greensboro City Council went first, approving a resolution in August 2015 to raise the minimum wage to $12 per hour (equivalent to $24,960 per year) for all benefited employees, excluding people who work at Greensboro Coliseum Complex, with the goal of raising the the wage to $15 (equivalent to $31,200) by 2020. By Sept. 1, the city plans to step up the minimum wage to $12.50, Communications Director Jake Keys said.

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And with the current fiscal year budget approved on June 20, Winston-Salem City Council increased its minimum wage from $10.10 to $11 per hour while directing staff “to develop a strategy to implement a $15 minimum wage over five years,” as Assistant City Manager Ben Rowe put it. City council approved a 2-cent tax increase while still boasting the lowest-cost among the state’s five largest cities to finance the pay raises.

The emphasis on fair compensation for the lowest paid city employees by local officials constitutes a remarkable evolution for local governing councils once preoccupied with cost containment and low taxes. The push for $15 per hour began with fast-food workers in New York City earlier in the decade, caught fire as part of the progressive coalition that came together through the Moral Monday movement in Raleigh and then became a defining feature of the Democratic primary fight between presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.

Sanders rallied voters with simple call for a $15 minimum wage, forcing Clinton to more or less co-opt his position. In April, as she faced the New York primary, she adopted a position of supporting a phased-in $15 minimum wage, with some variations for different labor markets. Josh Brannon, the Democratic nominee for the 5th Congressional District, favors a $15 minimum wage phased in over five years, with Bruce Davis, his counterpart in the new 13th District, taking a similar position. Last month, the Democratic Party adopted a platform of raising the federal minimum wage to $15 and indexing it to inflation.

The fact that nearly one in five Greensboro residents lives in poverty makes it incumbent that the city pay its employees a living wage, said Councilman Jamal Fox, an African-American Democrat who represents District 2 in northeast Greensboro.

“We’ve got folks that work for us that work two or three jobs,” he said. “We want to be a family-friendly organization. We want people to be able to put food on the table, to provide clothes and put a roof over their heads. This is a holistic perspective so that parents are able to spend more time in the home with their children. Then you get to the education piece [that addresses generational poverty].”

Councilman Derwin Montgomery, an African-American Democrat who represents the East Ward on Winston-Salem City Council, riffed on a similar theme in remarks before the vote to approve the 2016-17 budget in June.

“I think if you’re gonna talk about it, then you’ve got to be about it, and be an example to others in the community to do that,” he said. “I think we have a long way to go to continue to move in that direction, but the strategy that is in this budget to look at examining how we can move to $15 an hour I think is something we need to continue to look at.”

Mayor Allen Joines, a white Democrat who convened a so-called “thought force” earlier this year to come up with ideas to address poverty, echoed Montgomery’s charge.

“I’m very excited about moving our minimum wage to $11 an hour, and we’re setting a good example for the other businesses and organizations in our city as we continue to work on our poverty initiative,” he said.

While both cities are focused on raising wages for their lowest-paid workers — custodians, sanitation workers and other laborers — Winston-Salem is playing catchup to maintain competitive pay for police officers and firefighters. With police and fire comprising two of the largest departments in the city that provide the critical function of public safety, city leaders have become frustrated as they invest in training new recruits only to see them depart for neighboring cities to take advantage of higher pay.

Last December, a study by the Winston-Salem Human Resources Department found that pay for Winston-Salem firefighters increases on average by 16 percent over their first five years on the job, while pay for their counterparts in High Point rises 28 percent through a program called “Career Ladder” that incentivizes them to get new certifications. Similarly, the “Step Pay Plan” in Greensboro results in an average pay increase of 21 percent over the same period.

The study found that police officers in Winston-Salem are similarly disadvantaged.

To address lagging pay, the new budget adopted by Winston-Salem City Council on June 20 includes a 2-percent pay adjustment for police officers and firefighters to take effect on Jan. 1, 2017, and a pay increase designed to improve retention among officers and corporals with five to 10 years of experience. The budget also includes merit raises and market adjustments for other employees ranging from 1.5 to 3 percent.

“We’re continuing our efforts to bring our police officers and firefighters up to competitive levels,” said Councilman Dan Besse, a white Democrat who represents the Southwest Ward. “It’s not just the right thing to do for those who protect our community, it’s also a smart policy for getting the best public-safety service for our citizens. We cannot afford to keep training good officers just to lose them to other cities who pay them a little closer to what they deserve.” 

[Top earners]

Entertainment facilities

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1. Coliseum Director Matt Brown, Greensboro — $288,445

2. Deputy Coliseum Director Scott Johnson, Greensboro — $131,217

3. Theatre Director David Briggs, High Point — $100,044

4. Fair Director David L. Sparks, Winston-Salem — $96,673

Executive

1. City Manager Lee Garrity, Winston-Salem — $190,685

2. City Manager Jim Westmoreland, Greensboro — $188,324

3. Assistant City Manager Greg Turner, Winston-Salem — $186,856

4. Assistant City Manager Derwick Paige, Winston-Salem — $185,642

5. City Manager Greg Demko, High Point — $175,134

6. Deputy City Manager Randy McCaslin, High Point — $167,989

7. Assistant City Manager Randy Hemann, High Point — $144,271

8. Assistant City Manager David Parrish, Greensboro — $143,133

9. Assistant City Manager Christian Wilson, Greensboro — $137,144

10. Assistant City Manager Ben Rowe, Winston-Salem — $131,103

Legal

1. City Attorney Angela Carmon, Winston-Salem — $169,164

2. City Attorney Tom Carruthers, Greensboro — $158,000

3. City Attorney Joanne Carlyle, High Point — $154,532

4. Chief Deputy City Attorney Becky Peterson-Buie, Greensboro — $146,586

5. Deputy City Attorney Al Andrew, Winston-Salem — $120,924

6. Police Attorney Brian Beasley, High Point — $105,443

7. Public Safety Attorney Lori Sykes, Winston-Salem — $102,374

8. Assistant City Attorney Terri Jones, Greensboro — $99,575

9. Assistant City Attorney Jerry Kontos, Winston-Salem — $95,413

10. Assistant City Attorney Polly Sizemore, Greensboro — $94,000

11. Assistant City Attorney James A. Dickens Jr., Greensboro — $91,752

12. Police Attorney Jim Clark, Greensboro — $90,937

13. Assistant City Attorney John P. Roseboro, Greensboro — $90,418

14. Assistant City Attorney Andrea D. Harrell, Greensboro — $88,000

15. Assistant City Attorney Maria E. Guthold, Winston-Salem — $85,241

16. Assistant City Attorney Brent Cole, High Point — $82,139

17. Assistant City Attorney John R. Lawson, Winston-Salem — $71,886

18. Assistant City Attorney Takeisha R. Redd, Winston-Salem — $71,695

Community development

1. Community & Business Development Director Ritchie Brooks, Winston-Salem — $168,754

2. Neighborhood Development Director Barbara Harris, Greensboro — $114,616

3. Director Michael McNair, High Point — $113,160

4. Senior Project Supervisor Mellin L. Parker, Winston-Salem — $107,289

5. Deputy Director Evan Raleigh, Winston-Salem — $83,947

Planning

1. Planning & Development Services Director Paul Norby, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County — $161,999

2. Director Lee Burnette, High Point — $133,736

3. Director Sue Schwartz, Greensboro — $117,191

Police

1. Chief Barry Rountree, Winston-Salem — $158,038

2. Chief Wayne Scott, Greensboro — $149,212

3. Chief Kenneth Shultz, High Point — $138,713

4. Assistant Chief Wilson Weaver, Winston-Salem — $107,072

5. Assistant Chief Lawrence Casterline Jr., High Point — $104,004

6. Deputy Chief James Hinson, Greensboro — $101,725

7. Deputy Chief Brian Cheek, Greensboro — $101,563

8. Assistant Chief Ken Steele, High Point — $100,375

9. Assistant Chief Scott G. Bricker, Winston-Salem — $100,225

10. Deputy Chief Brian James, Greensboro — $99,252

11. Deputy Chief Richard B. Whisenant, Greensboro — $99,252

12. Assistant Chief Jonathan Stroud, High Point — $95,484

13. Assistant Chief Catrina Thompson, Winston-Salem — $93,701

Fire

1. Chief Trey Mayo, Winston-Salem — $149,380

2. Chief Marion Reid, High Point — $139,697

3. Chief Bobby Nugent, Greensboro — $139,000

4. Deputy Chief Clarence M. Hunter, Greensboro — $109,549

5. Deputy Chief Richard T. Wright, High Point — $108,742

6. Assistant Chief Robert S. Owens, Winston-Salem — $101,720

7. Assistant Chief Michael Levins, High Point — $100,944

8. Deputy Fire Chief Ronald M. Swails, Greensboro — $99,947

9. Deputy Fire Chief Graham J. Robinson III, Greensboro — $99,947

10. Assistant Chief Harry J. Brown Jr., Winston-Salem — $96,226

11. Assistant Chief Brian A. Evans, High Point — $93,344

12. Assistant Chief Michael L. Rogers, Greensboro — $90,418

13. Assistant Chief Bryant K. Staples, Greensboro — $90,418

14. Assistant Chief William H. Lentz III, Greensboro — $90,418

15. Assistant Chief Dwayne S. Church, Greensboro — $86,580

16. Assistant Chief Franklin L. Stowe, Winston-Salem — $84,538

17. Assistant Chief Anthony T. Byrum, Winston-Salem — $84,375

18. Assistant Chief Patrick A. Henley, Greensboro — $83,3014

Information technology

1. Chief Information Officer Thomas L. Kureczka, Winston-Salem — $148,526

2. Communications & Information Services Director Steven Lingerfelt, High Point — $130,067

3. Systems Project Administrator Thomas Spencer, High Point — $122,554

4. Chief Information Officer Jane Nickles, Greensboro — $121,407

5. Senior Systems Analyst James R. Gheen, High Point — $120,128

6. Senior Information Technology Manager Christine Hofer, Greensboro — $117,581

7. IS Project Coordinator Terry Nichols, Winston-Salem — $110,489

8. Infrastructure Services Coordinator Todd A. Porter, Winston-Salem — $104,039

9. Systems Analyst David L. Britton, High Point — $103,788

10. Public Safety IS Manager Julia B. Conley, Winston-Salem — $100,228

Economic development (High Point)

1. Director Loren Hill — $146,842

Finance

1. Chief Financial Officer Lisa M. Saunders, Winston-Salem — $142,827

2. Director Rick Lusk, Greensboro — $139,133

3. Financial Services Director Jeffrey Moore, High Point — $133,212

4. Senior Financial Services Manager Marlene Druga, Greensboro — $121,554

Public works

1. Field Operations Director Dale Wyrick, Greensboro — $137,758

2. Water Resources Director Steven Drew, Greensboro — $137,604

3. Public Services Director Terry Houk, High Point — $137,257

4. Engineering & Inspections Director Herman K. McDowell III, Greensboro — $131,802

5. City Engineer Robert Prestwood, Winston-Salem — $128,218

6. Engineering Services Director Brian K. Pugh, High Point — $124,580

7. Property & Facilities Management Director James T. Mitchell, Winston-Salem — $120,045

8. City-County Utilities Director Courtney L. Driver, Winston-Salem — $119,571

9. Facility Services Director Timothy McKinney, High Point — $115,376

10. Sanitation Director Johnnie F. Taylor, Winston-Salem — $111,938

11. Public Services Assistant Director Robby Stone, High Point — $109,616

12. Senior Water Resources Manager Michael Borchers, Greensboro — $108,070

13. Senior Administrator Services Manager Christopher Payne, Greensboro — $107,966

14. Solid Waste Administrator Janis D. McHargue, Winston-Salem — $107,749

15. Electrical Engineering Manager DA Averill, High Point — $107,692

16. Senior Water Resources Manager Kristine W. Williams, Greensboro — $105,000

17. Senior Solid Waste Manager Christopher R. Marriott, Greensboro — $104,645

18. Stormwater Director Keith D. Huff, Winston-Salem — $101,648

19. Facilities Manager Darrell Shumate, Greensboro — $100,879

20. Wastewater Plant Superintendent James F. Crump, Winston-Salem — $100,377

Electric utilities (High Point)

1. Director Garey Edwards — $134,599

Human resources

1. Director Connie Hammond, Greensboro — $132,861

2. Director Angela Kirkwood, High Point — $130,320

3. Director Carmen Caruth, Winston-Salem — $118,912

4. Senior Human Resources Manager Joseph Marro, Greensboro — $118,643

5. Senior Human Resources Manager Jamiah Waterman, Greensboro — $116,881

6. Total Compensation Manager Ida Blackburn, Greensboro — $102,959

7. Credit Union Manager Gerald Wise, Greensboro — $100,971

Transportation

1. Director Mark McDonald, High Point — $129,599

2. Director Adam Fischer, Greensboro — $118,918

3. Director Toneq’ McCullough, Winston-Salem — $112,654

4. Deputy Director Connie James, Winston-Salem — $104,095

Parks & recreation

1. Director Tim Grant, Winston-Salem — $124,349

2. Director Wade Walcutt, Greensboro — $113,963

3. Director Phillip Tillery, High Point — $113,686

Workforce development (Greensboro/High Point/Guilford County)

1. Director Lillian Plummer — $123,416

Budget

1. Director Larry Davis, Greensboro — $121,455

2. Budget & Administrative Director Eric Olmedo, High Point — $118,810

Libraries

1. Director Brigitte Blanton, Greensboro — $116,754

2. Director Mary Sizemore, High Point — $110,113

Emergency services

1. Guilford Metro Communications Director Melanie Neal, Greensboro — $113,963

Human relations

1. Director Wanda Allen-Abraha, Winston-Salem — $113,868

2. Director Love Crossling, Greensboro — $102,596

3. Manager Fanta Dorley, High Point — $60,900

Marketing/public affairs

1. Communications Director Carla Banks, Greensboro — $109,310

2. Community & Public Engagement Director Jeron Hollis — $105,845

3. Marketing & Communications Director Ed McNeal, Winston-Salem — $104,163

Fleet services (High Point)

1. Director Gary L. Smith — $107,010

Customer service (High Point)

1. Director Troy R. Martin Jr. — $110,113

City clerk/secretary

1. City Clerk Betsey Richardson, Greensboro — $101,661

2. City Clerk Lisa Vierling, High Point — $81,808

3. City Secretary Melanie M. Johnson, Winston-Salem — $65,161

Museums

1. Greensboro Historical Museum Manager Carol Hart — $72,667

2. High Point Museum Director Edith Brady — $54,011

Significant moves at the top of the pay scale

Along with death and taxes, there’s one certainty in Triad government from one year to the next: Coliseum Director Matt Brown will take home the biggest paycheck of any public servant. It’s easy to understand why. The facility he runs is a linchpin of Greensboro’s amateur-sports tourism economy, which spins off revenue to hotels and restaurants in the city. Accordingly, Brown’s pay rose from $269,575 to $288,445.

City managers in the Triad’s three largest cities earn roughly two thirds of what Brown takes home. The biggest change in the executive category since last year is that Winston-Salem City Manager Lee Garrity, who has held the top job the longest, leapfrogged over Jim Westmoreland, his counterpart in Greensboro. Garrity’s pay increased from $183,475 to $190,685.

Within the executive ranks, Mary Vigue left a position as an assistant city manager in Greensboro to join the Say Yes campaign, while Randy Hemann came to High Point from Salisbury to work as an assistant city position.

Kenneth Schultz took the job of police chief in High Point following the retirement of his predecessor, Marty Sumner. Likewise, Bobby Nugent replaced Greg Grayson as fire chief in Greensboro.

Notably, the city of High Point fired the director of its human relations department, replacing a department head who earned a salary of $97,400 with a manager, Fanta Dorley, who takes home less than two-thirds that amount.

Like Vigue, Donnie Turlington left the city of Greensboro to work for Say Yes. Turlington earned $101,500 as the city’s communications & marketing director, while his replacement, Carla Banks, earns $109,310. In High Point, Jeron Hollis was promoted from communications officer to community & public engagement director, with a hefty pay increase from $84,342 to $105,845.

In Winston-Salem, Melanie Johnson succeeded Renee Phillips as city secretary. Johnson earns $65,161 — $16,575 less than her predecessor.

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