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Court appearance, 11/06

County-City Building in Lincoln.

Congratulations, Lincolnite, on your new position. You now make $87,129 annually to lead an employer with roughly 2,000 workers. Here’s what you need to know:

Raises beyond cost-of-living adjustments are rare. Twenty of your direct reports — and plenty of their subordinates, too — make more than you. Oh, and you can hold this job for a maximum of 12 years, assuming you first pass a performance review once every four years.

Having second thoughts? It’s understandable — this paycheck comes with a lot of responsibility, headache and high-stress situations.

We're talking about Lincoln’s mayor. Compared to mayors in peer cities, not to mention private-sector jobs with similar level, the salary simply doesn’t stack up. As such, it’s time for the city to increase pay for its chief executive to a level commensurate with the importance of the position.

City Councilman Roy Christensen and Mayor Chris Beutler — who couldn’t benefit from the raise, as his term ends next spring — have proposed a charter amendment that would the position’s pay, to be determined by voters in 2019. The idea is a vital one the Journal Star editorial board wholeheartedly endorses.

As this city’s namesake, Abraham Lincoln, so eloquently stated in the Gettysburg Address: “Government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.” The imbalance between wages and responsibilities, however, often limits the people able to seek the mayor’s office to the retired and independently wealthy, as Christensen correctly noted.

If you want to run government like a business, as is so often professed, then pay your best and brightest executives far more. Bring home the bacon for the company, and you’ll bring some home for yourself — that’s how free enterprise functions.

Yet Nebraskans are loath to pay their elected officials accordingly, with the most glaring example also located in Lincoln. Our 49 state senators make only $12,000 for the critical job of setting state law, but voters have defeated several efforts to raise their wages. (Worth noting: The Legislature’s composition skews toward those same traits Christensen highlighted.)

Similarly sized Midwest cities — Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Madison, Wisconsin; St. Paul, Minnesota; and Omaha — pay their mayors between $104,000 and $137,000. Omaha’s eastern neighbor, Council Bluffs, Iowa, also pays its mayor more than $100,000. Lincoln just doesn’t match up.

Despite this, at least three mayoral candidates and two City Council candidates opposed any pay hike for Lincoln’s next mayor. And a raise would be a tough sell in a city where the median income is near $53,000, per the U.S. Census Bureau, as $87,129 would represent a big-time raise for most Lincolnites.

Given the great responsibilities of the mayor and its low relative pay, though, a raise is in order for the next person who takes the job as Lincoln's most important leader.

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Opinion editor

John Schreier, an Omaha native and sixth-generation Nebraskan, has been the Journal Star’s opinion editor since April 2017.

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