Defending Elliot’s Raise

Yesterday’s meetings at MTA headquarters were mainly highlighted by more gloomy as far as their finances go. However I will go into that in the next entry. At the end of one of the meetings, MTA CEO & Executive Director Elliot Sander took some questions from the media. Unfortunately for those like myself who were watching the webcast of the meetings, it was just about impossible to make out the questions being asked.

The one question that seemed audibile enough was about the timing of Mr. Sander’s raise & how it would look to the riding public during these tough financial times. If I am not mistaken, New York Daily News transit reporter Pete Donohue asked the question. Speaking of Pete, he has a report about this very topic which will appear in today’s editon of the Daily News. Here is his report:

Elliot Sander took one for the team.

The MTA CEO on Monday defended his May pay raise as a strategy to keep top executives from taking higher-paying jobs at other transit agencies.

“Our ability to retain and attract talent is significantly at risk,” Sander told reporters. “The reality is the salary structure at the MTA is set in relationship to my salary.”

Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Dale Hemmerdinger agreed, citing the loss of two cherished baseball teams decades ago.

“We have to do all we can do keep talented people here and not abandon them to, say, Los Angeles like the Dodgers and the [San Francisco] Giants,” Hemmerdinger said.

As the MTA’s finances were tanking, Sander renegotiated his contract with Hemmerdinger, who increased his annual economic package by $10,000 to $350,000. That includes salary, a housing allowance and a retirement-fund contribution.

The amended contract calls for salary increases of at least 3% in 2009 and 2010 and possible bonus payments totaling $25,000.

Shifting some funds from Sander’s housing allowance to salary, now $290,000, also will mean a higher pension since government pensions are set using salary levels during the last three years of employment.

All told, Sander stands to make more than $382,000 in 2010.

“Certainly, I think that I would have preferred that the timing would have been different,” Sander said.

There really hasn’t been a good time since he arrived in January 2007, he noted.

“This is an issue that I was focused on from the time this job was offered to me,” he said. “Over the past year and a half, there has never been a good time. Basically, we’ve been in constant discussion about fares and tolls over that period.”

I am on the record about my opinion of this raise which can be read here. I can understand Dale’s point about being competitive in compensation compared to fellow transit executive peers. However at a time when your financial situation is so dire, the timing of this could not be any worse. If Elliot even considered leaving his post for better compensation so quickly, he clearly was not the right man for the job to begin with. He knew what was going on before he signed up so he should stick it out & his just due would come. The MTA needs people who are in this for the long haul & the right thing to do would have been to hold off & fix your financial issues first. Even if the amount wouldn’t change the dire situation,  public perception has to count for something.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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