Political fault lines inflamed Thursday as members of Erie County Council disagreed over a starting salary for incoming County Clerk Julie Slomski.
The division marked the latest scuffle over the 44-year-old Democrat and former state Senate candidate who Republicans say is too political for the nonpartisan job that oversees the county’s elections.
“I do think that politics unfortunately are coming into this,” said Democratic Councilwoman Mary Rennie in reference to Republican pushback.
Rennie, who serves as council vice-chairperson, proposed Slomski earn an annual salary of $82,992, an amount that Slomski’s predecessor — Doug Smith — earned in 2021.
While the amount is a 3% drop from the allotted salary in the 2022 budget and would not require additional funds, Republican Council Chairman Brian Shank balked, insisting it was still a “pretty big leap of faith” for Slomski, who’s never worked in county government.
“I won’t support it,” he said Thursday during a personnel meeting at Erie County Courthouse.
Republican Councilman Samuel Bayle added that Rennie’s proposal would have Slomski earning the same salary as Smith after his 19 years on the job.
He said he’d like to do more research on the matter and possibly consult with the county’s financial advisor — J.L. Nick & Associates, Inc. — before making a decision.
Republican Councilwoman Ellen Schauerman agreed.
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Slomski, who was appointed by council in a party line vote at a March 10 executive session, has faced scrutiny by Republican members who see her political background as problematic.
In 2020, she ran against state Sen. Dan Laughlin, of Millcreek, R-49th Dist. She also served as chief of staff for state Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, of Millcreek, D-3rd Dist., and as northwest regional director for Gov. Tom Wolf.
Democratic council members have praised Slomski on her government and management experience. Republican members, as well as Erie County Executive Brenton Davis, say Slomski has been too embedded in Democratic politics to serve as county clerk, a position that also functions as clerk of elections.
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The county clerk, which reports to county council, doesn’t count votes as clerk of elections but serves as an agent of the Erie County Election Board and oversees the election process.
Democratic Councilman Andre Horton on Thursday implored his colleagues to evaluate the duties and responsibilities of the position, not the person, when determining a salary.
Rennie said J.L. Nick evaluated the position last year and that her proposed amount falls within the recommended pay range. Republican members requested to see this documentation prior to voting.
Rennie added the proposed 3% drop in salary was the same standard used and approved for other administration appointees.
Democratic Councilman Jim Winarski proposed the only alternate salary to Rennie’s at $80,574, a 6% drop from the 2022 budget.
Council will vote on the salary Tuesday during a regular meeting at 6 p.m. at the Erie County Courthouse.
Council is also expected to vote on salaries for three other positions Tuesday: director of public health, director of veterans affairs, and director of planning and community development.
Erie County Human Resources Director Ann Villella said the administration consulted with J.L. Nick on all three positions and that each new salary proposal falls within recommended pay ranges.
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The administration proposed to bump Public Health Director Erin Mrenak’s annual salary from $61,815 to $95,739, an amount that will require a $33,924 supplemental budget appropriation.
Villella justified the increase by citing Mrenak’s increased duties and responsibilities and her 12 years of relevant experience in comprehensive health care management.
Mrenak’s predecessor, Melissa Lyon, earned an annual salary of more than $98,000 prior to leaving in 2021.
The administration proposed a $65,978 annual salary for Director of Veterans Affairs Joe Benacci. The amount is about $12,000 less than Erie County Executive Brenton Davis’ initial salary request in February.
The amount falls within the 2022 budgeted amount and does not require additional funds.
Villella said the salary for the director of planning and community development — a position temporarily held by Jon Whaley, who lacks the requisite seven years of professional planning experience — needs to be more competitive to attract new candidates.
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The administration proposed to bump the annual salary from $67,367 to $85,842.
Council members of both parties voiced support for the new proposals and are expected to vote favorably Tuesday.