Some Executive Decisions for Springfield

There was much ado lately about the compensation awarded to the CEOs of area hospitals. The published salary figures, transposed against layoffs at one area hospital and only fair financial performance at most area facilities, raised some eyebrows and drew more than a few letters to area editors suggesting that some of these administrators were overpaid.

In response, members of some area hospital boards replied (and we’re paraphrasing here) that they conducted careful research before settling on compensation numbers they thought were fair, allowed them to attract and retain top talent, and would provide leaders that could take their institutions forward.

While we were never as concerned as some with the numbers paid to area hospital administrators, we thought the dialogue offered a perfect segue to another discussion regarding executive compensation in this area — specifically the amount paid to the mayor of Springfield.

That would be just over $100,000, and it’s a number that’s embarrassingly low (dozens of city officials and police and firefighters earn more) and one that could, we believe, stifle the comeback everyone wants to see in the City of Homes. With just over a year to go before the next mayoral election in Springfield, we suggest the City Council and the Control Board, if it’s still in business, address this subject and, while doing so, perform the same due diligence as those hospital boards.

Why? Because Springfield’s next leader, whoever it is, will be taking charge in City Hall at an absolutely critical time for the community, and, like area businesses faced with times of challenge and turmoil, the city must do what it can to attract the best talent to the position.

And that includes raising the mayor’s salary by at least 50%.

We know what you’re thinking — that people should run for office, and especially mayor, out of a desire to serve, and not for the money. The current office holder, Charles Ryan, exemplifies that attitude.

But individuals like Ryan are rare. He’s semi-retired and not influenced by the salary for the city’s top executive. Most individuals are, however, and unless city officials approve an increase, many people will quietly decide that they simply can’t afford to run for mayor.

Why is compensation for this post so important? Because while its true that some people would run for the position regardless of the pay scale (like we said, very few people) and a $100,000 salary would certainly not offend many individuals, Springfield needs to attract true leadership — not merely the talent that will work for the current rate.

Executive compensation has been an issue in Springfield and other cities for some time now. The mayors of Chicopee, Easthampton, and other communities, for example, are woefully underpaid, and we recommend adjustments there, as well. But the issue takes on new meaning in Springfield because of the time and the place.

The city, as everyone knows, is at a critical crossroads; it can either move forward and achieve real progress, or it can continue to stagnate.

The eventual course the city takes will likely be decided by the next mayor, whose impact will no doubt be influenced by how long the Finance Control Board remains in power, and with Deval Patrick soon to occupy the Corner Office, the board may leave sooner rather than later.

This uncertainty attaches even more importance to the matter of who Springfield’s next mayor will be. This individual will be tasked not only with administering the city, but with inspiring its residents and business owners to dream bigger and better — and then leading them in the task of making dreams reality.

As the board members who moved quickly to defend hospital CEO salaries indicated, and again, we’re paraphrasing, ‘you get what you pay for.’

Springfield is faced with the same reality, and for that reason, it’s time to make the needed adjustments in compensation to attract real leadership, be it from the business community or elsewhere.

In short, the current salary doesn’t reflect the importance of the position or the demands that will placed on the individual. It’s time to ante up.