PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- In late December, Pittsburgh City Council members voted to give themselves a $16,000 pay raise in a move the city controller is calling wrong.
Remember the legislative pay grab of 2005 when state lawmakers boosted their pay in the middle of the night by 16 percent or $11,500? Turns out, Pittsburgh City Council members voted to give themselves an even larger pay raise that the public didn't know a thing about.
"This was not in the original budget proposal," City Controller Michael Lamb told KDKA political editor Jon Delano on Wednesday. "It was snuck into the budget at the close of the budget session last year and done without any public discussion, any public conversation."
Lamb says the 22 percent pay raise was not in the original preliminary budget last September. That budget gave council members the same 3 percent increase other city workers got, a salary of $74,377.
But by the time the final budget was voted on in December and signed by then-Mayor Bill Peduto, the council's salary jumped to $88,000.
"This was done outside the cameras, outside the lights, with no one else in the room to question it, and it's just wrong," says Lamb.
Council president Theresa Kail-Smith defended the size of the raise and the process.
Delano: The basic argument is that you did this secretly. Did you do this secretly?
Kail-Smith: I think that's a poor argument. That's a made-up argument. We did not do it secretively. There were public hearings. There was ample opportunity. We had a special vote where we put all the amendments in.
But Lamb says none of the nine council members ever raised the 22 percent pay hike issue publicly during any hearings or discussion of amendments so there was no way for the public to know about it.
Lamb hopes council reopens the budget on this issue.
"If they feel they are so worthy of this increase and they're proud to get behind it in a vote, then they should be willing to do so in a public meeting, and that never happened," Lamb said.
Kail-Smith says the budget is always open, and council members are free to make whatever changes they wish. But she defends the size of the pay raise because, she says, the annual cost of living hike was not enough.
"Council has not received a significant pay raise in nearly 20 years," Kail-Smith said.
WATCH: Jon Delano reports
She says that's why all nine members voted for budget amendments that boosted their pay by $16,000 to $88,000. The problem, says Lamb, is they did this without publicly discussing the raise.
"When you're talking about elected official compensation, it's got to be a public process," Lamb said. "It's got to be open. It's got to be a conversation and discussion."
Kail-Smith doesn't recall anyone talking about it publicly, but she says the pay hike was approved in an open meeting even if those who were watching didn't realize that council was voting to raise its pay.
"It wasn't like we did it in the middle of the night. It happened in the light of day in a public process," she says.
KDKA reached out to other members of Pittsburgh City council, but, so far, not a lot of on-the-record responses. Some say they did not realize how large this $16,000 pay raise was.
Councilman Corey O'Connor says he will not accept the raise, but no word yet from others or on any effort to repeal the pay hike.
Mayor Ed Gainey's office did respond, saying, "Mayor Gainey did not participate in any discussion about the council salary increases or salaries in general in the 2022 budget."
What happens next is really up to the public. After the legislative pay grab of 2005, the criticism was so strong that state lawmakers repealed their pay raise. Whether that happens in the city of Pittsburgh remains to be seen.
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