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Bellevue City Councilman Pat Shannon, center, speaks about $6,000 pay raises for the city’s mayor and council members during a council meeting on Tuesday. Shannon included an amendment that will give the officials a yearly raise beginning in 2021.

Beginning in 2020, Bellevue’s mayor and six City Council members will receive $6,000 pay bumps — that much was anticipated going into Tuesday night’s vote on the raises.

What had not been discussed publicly before the vote: Starting in December 2021, the council and mayor will receive annual 2% raises.

The public did not have the opportunity to comment on Councilman Pat Shannon’s 11th-hour amendment to add yearly raises, which passed 4-2 — the same vote count that greenlighted the pay raises.

Shannon drew criticism in November when he tried to push similar raises through a single council meeting without going through the typical three-meeting introduction, public hearing and vote process.

With their yes votes, a majority of the council appeared to agree with Shannon that some elected officials in Bellevue have been underpaid. Council members have received $11,000 for several years; the mayor’s current salary of $15,000 was last raised in 1998.

“Congratulations, Mr. Mayor, the drought is over,” Shannon said to Mayor Rusty Hike.

Councilmen Paul Cook and Thomas Burns voted against Shannon’s amendment and the pay raise.

After the meeting, both men expressed similar unease about the rushed nature of the amendment and the overall pay raise.

Shannon and others supportive of the pay raises, including Councilman Don Preister, have pointed to the amount of time they say is required to effectively govern a city of Bellevue’s size, with a population of about 53,600.

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Many council members estimate that they devote at least 20 hours each week to the job.

Mayor Rusty Hike said in an interview that he supports the raises. Bellevue is growing because of an aggressive annexation plan, and as the city adds thousands of residents, the council members will take on more work, he said.

“We have a lot of work to do to get to where we really should be,” he said.

Hike, a real estate broker, said he’s spending $40,000 on additional Hike Real Estate employees to take on work when he’s focused on city business.

Harvey Wiltsey, a longtime Bellevue resident attending Tuesday’s meeting, called Shannon’s amendment “stupid” as Shannon was explaining it to the council.

Wiltsey, 83, said he worked for many years as a labor negotiator in Iowa. He took umbrage with the fact that Bellevue’s elected officials will not be subject to yearly pay discussions, just as the city’s police officers and other unionized employees are.

“That’s inappropriate,” he said.

Cook said in an interview after the vote that he didn’t think that “we had a good enough explanation” to justify the 2% annual raise without public discussion.

“It was not discussed; it was not even brought up,” Cook said of the amendment.

Burns said he knew the pay when he ran for office.

“It doesn’t feel right ... giving myself a raise,” he said.

The initial $6,000 raise will take effect Dec. 1, 2020, after an election that could send new representatives to Bellevue’s City Council chamber. At that point, the mayor’s salary will increase to $21,000. Council members’ pay will increase to $17,000.

Cook had asked the city’s Human Resources Department to run a comparison of the mayor’s and council’s pay with the cities that Bellevue uses when it sets the salaries of its rank-and-file employees.

That analysis, according to Cook, showed that the council is overpaid. The cities in question were not released to the World-Herald.

Shannon created his own list of comparable cities that he said were close in size and budget to Bellevue. Citing his own findings, he said Bellevue will lag behind its peers even with the raises.

When asked his thoughts on the fact that Bellevue residents did not have the chance to comment on his amendment, Shannon said the raise won’t amount to much.

“I don’t think anybody’s going to care if the council gets a $300-a-year raise,” he said.”If I’m wrong, they’ll tell me next time I’m up for election.”

Reece covers Sarpy County for The World-Herald. He's a born-and-raised Nebraskan and UNL grad who spent time in Oklahoma and Virginia before returning home. Follow him on Twitter @reecereports. Phone: 402-444-1127

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