South Salt Lake Mayor Cherie Wood was denied a salary increase by a 4-3 vote of the City Council on Wednesday — with the male-dominated no vote prompting one female council member to question whether sexism was a motive.
Councilwoman Sharla Bynum tried to tell colleagues she saw the same thing happen in 2014 when a proposed raise for Wood also was rejected.
”I’m not making any accusations," she said during Wednesday night’s meeting, “but I sometimes wonder if it’s a female mayor sometimes because it was a boys club back then and that just —” Bynum was then cut off by several male councilmen decrying her remarks as “inappropriate” and “offensive.”
“I’m sorry you feel that way,” Bynum continued, “but I can’t help but wonder because it’s happened now twice.”
Three men and one woman made up the council majority turning down the raise, while two female members and one male councilman voted for it.
The rejection came right after a unanimous vote of the council to reject a pay increase for themselves. Several members said having all city elected officials go without an increase would send a good-faith message to residents, especially in light of a proposed water utility fee.
Wood, who has been mayor since 2010, is paid a salary of $81,492 plus benefits. The 6 percent raise proposed Wednesday — and already approved for other full-time city employees — would have brought her up to $86,460.
She has had only one salary increase while in office: a 4 percent boost in 2011.
In an interview Thursday, Wood neither embraced nor denied the possibility that sexism was behind the salary vote. But she suggested the question was worth exploring.
Usually, she said, a full-time mayor receives the same increase as full-time city employees.
Saying the vote had “raised some questions," Wood noted she had also suggested four highly qualified female candidates for positions as department directors with the city, whose appointments were also opposed by the same four council members who blocked her pay raise.
“So that’s happened in the last two years,” Wood said. "It makes me question what’s going on and if it is an issue in our city with this current council.”
The mayor said she also was “surprised” by the outraged response of the male council members to Bynum’s comments.
“I don’t feel that her comments were accusatory. I thought she was just asking questions," the mayor said. "I don’t want to put words in her mouth but I feel like it’s probably a bigger question if you [consider] four female directors that have not been approved by the same four.”
Bynum did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Councilman Shane Siwik lashed out Thursday at the suggestion of sexism, saying it was “a desperate attack when you lose an argument to label somebody a bigot after the fact.
“There was absolutely zero sexism in our vote,” Siwik said. "We just didn’t think the mayor should get a raise — it’s that plain and simple.”
Siwik also defended the rejection of several of the mayor’s appointees, saying in one case, council members lacked confidence in the person’s experience, and in another, the candidate was married to a former council member.
“When she keeps bringing friends that we feel are too crony-istic — if that’s even a word — it doesn’t matter the gender," Siwik said. "In fact just last night we unanimously approved a female planning commissioner.”
The council and mayor have had several run-ins in recent years, including allegations of nepotism and mixing of politics and official business in City Hall. Two of the councilmembers — Siwik and Mark Kindred — challenged Wood during last year’s election, with Wood pulling out a narrow win over Kindred.