ST. LOUIS — Two days before Mayor Tishaura Jones traveled to a conference in Washington, D.C., she faced questions at city hall about her proposal to expand taxpayer funds for her travel expenses.
The mayor proposed spending a total of $2.5 million to run her office this year, a 30% increase over 2020 spending levels. Included in the budget request is an extra $7,500 for travel, an extra $3,000 for “education and training,” an extra $2,000 for transportation, and $27,500 in added expenses to pay for “membership fees.”
“These are the membership fees for the U.S. Conference of Mayors as well as the African American Mayors Association,” Jones replied.
Membership for a city the size of St. Louis costs $12,242 at the U.S. Conference of Mayors and $15,000 for the African American Mayors Association, according to their respective websites.
Board of Alderman President Lewis Reed (D-St Louis) called that a "significant amount of taxpayer money” during a budget hearing at the Board of Estimate and Apportionment on Tuesday night.
“We can dive into this deeper later when we get it over to the Board of Alderman,” Reed said, suggesting the mayor may face an uphill battle getting her spending plan through city hall.
Reed also pressed the mayor to explain why she chose to supplement her salary with an extra $30,000 in a "contingency fund."
“I have an option to accept it as salary and I have done so,” Jones replied.
When Reed pressed her a second time, Jones retorted, “Well, it’s expensive to be mayor and to travel to all these conferences, and that's essentially what that fund has been used for in the past.”
In a Thursday afternoon interview with 5 On Your Side, the mayor’s spokesman defended the perk.
“Mayor Slay, Mayor Krewson, and now Mayor Jones have all used the same exact process,” spokesman Nick Desideri said. “This is not new. This $30,000 requirement is in the city code. So I don't understand why the board president is so frustrated. In his 12 years on the board, at least to my knowledge, he never had a problem with it under previous administrations.”
In a Facebook post, the Ethical Society of Police echoed comments Reed made on Tuesday night.
“The mayor also would receive a more than 20% increase in pay by accepting the $30,000 mayoral ‘contingent fund’ on top of her $132,000 salary,” the ESOP statement said. “Whether or not this is in line with past mayors, and though part of those funds will cover annual expenses, this increase is grossly out-of-touch with the raises allocated to our first responders and other city workers.”
“These are taxpayer dollars,” Desideri acknowledged. “We always welcome scrutiny and tough questions, and we're always ready to respond to them and emphasize how we're using these funds are critical to running city services.”
The mayor has proposed spending another $12 million in American Rescue Plan funds on “compensation adjustments,” and has also pledged to fund 3% pay raises for city workers in addition to the regularly scheduled 1.5% step increases.
The Board of Aldermen are scheduled to meet in person at city hall on Friday morning.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to clarify the mayor’s proposed 3% pay raises for city workers would not come directly from federal funds.