For years, the mayor of tiny Edgerton in southern Johnson County earned $40 per council meeting, or just over $1,000 in annual salary.
But now, Mayor Donald Roberts earns far more than the mayors of Overland Park, Olathe, Lenexa and other much bigger cities. And his council colleagues say he’s worth every cent.
In January, the council voted 5-0 to boost Roberts’ pay to $7,500 monthly, or $90,000 per year.
“He was working 80 hours per week,” said Council President Clay Longanecker, who recommended the new pay scale. “He was doing an exceptional job.”
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Roberts has been mayor of Edgerton for nine years, just started his third term, and is known for working tirelessly on economic development and community events. While the city has only about 1,700 residents, it is home to the Logistics Park freight distribution center and warehouse development, which has added 3,900 new jobs since 2013 and is making a name for itself as one of the nation’s fastest-growing industrial parks.
“The mayor’s position is very non-traditional,” said Edgerton City Administrator Beth Linn, who earns $140,700. “Mayor Roberts has been the leadership on the elected side, who has led Edgerton in the kinds of changes and progress that we’ve seen. He’s changed the face of this community.”
Roberts had a full-time job with the neighboring city of Gardner for 26 years and was their water treatment plant superintendent until three years ago. He took a job with an engineering firm toward the end of last year but struggled to do that job and serve as mayor.
“There was one week last year that I put in less than 40 hours. But most weeks I put in 60, 70, 80 hours,” he said of his mayoral duties.
He said he had talked to Longanecker and other council colleagues about some type of raise but did not specify the amount. He left the room when the council discussed his salary at the Jan. 11 council meeting. A few members of the public were present, and no one voiced opposition. The mayor did not vote.
Roberts noted the city’s budget has grown significantly in recent years, while property taxes were lowered 25 percent. He said the 2018 budget can accommodate the raise and requires no tax increase to cover it.
Longanecker said the salary was comparable to what Roberts was making at the engineering firm.
“That’s how we decided,” he said. “We needed him doing what he was doing instead of working somewhere else....That sounded fair to me and the rest of the council thought so, too.”
Longanecker, a farmer, said he’s heard a bit of grumbling and questions about the salary from some folks who visit the local farmers’ cooperative association. But most understand when he explains the rationale. He said Roberts had worked for years as mayor for a pittance, including countless volunteer hours to help bring the Logistics Park to fruition.
The other council members did not get a raise. They still get just $25 per meeting.
Roberts says he was pleasantly surprised by the recommended salary and has heard little opposition.
“I’ve had a tremendous amount of support from the community,” he said.
The Gardner News did not oppose the mayor’s raise in a Jan. 19 editorial. But it did critique the lack of measurements, review or sunset provisions attached to the increase.
“No one can argue Roberts is not one of the — if not the — hardest working mayor around,” the editorial said. “But despite that uniqueness, there needs to be some performance requirements attached if the council is going to pay an elected official like a full-time employee.”
While Edgerton officials defend the salary, there’s no doubt it’s considerably more than other Johnson County mayors earn. Those positions are considered part-time. Overland Park Mayor Carl Gerlach earns $32,000 annually. Olathe Mayor Michael Copeland’s base salary is $25,584, with a general allowance of $7,860. Lenexa Mayor Michael Boehm earns $21,288.
In Gardner, a city of 21,000, newly elected Mayor Steve Shute makes $7,769.52. Public Information Officer Daneeka Marshall-Oquendo said Gardner residents were aware of Roberts’ big bump in salary, but it was not a controversial topic.
“We are fully aware,” she said. “We’re neighbors.”