HIGH SALARY: Southaven mayor Darren Musselwhite makes more per year than Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant.
By Steve Wilson | Mississippi Watchdog
Southaven’s Darren Musselwhite is still the highest paid mayor in the state, but when salaries of mayors in Mississippi are indexed to population, his salary pales in comparison to some of his contemporaries.
Mississippi Watchdog did an analysis based on the 2013 Mississippi Municipal Salary Survey by the John C. Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University.
While Musselwhite takes home $150,000 per year — more than Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant — when indexed to the city’s population, he makes $3.06 per resident. Southaven is the state’s third-largest city behind Jackson and Gulfport.
“It should raise some serious red flags for taxpayers when a municipal mayor is earning more than the governor of their state,” said Leonard Gilroy, director of Government Reform at the Reason Foundation. “While this could be a possibility in some big-city urban labor markets, where municipal executive salaries may be pegged to higher-than-average private-sector comparable benchmarks, in most jurisdictions it’s hard to envision why a local executive should be earning more than the executive of their state, given the scope of the latter.”
Musselwhite’s salary per resident pales in comparison to Tunica’s part-time mayor Chuck Cariker, who takes home $49,950.00 per year, or more than $48 per each of Tunica’s 1,025 residents. According to WREG-TV in Memphis, the town is adding a garbage fee and looking at raising rates on other services. Casino revenues continue to decline in the area after Harrah’s closed.
Cariker isn’t the highest paid part-time mayor. Columbia’s mayor — Robert Bourne — makes $54,855.72 per year. Bourne is in his first term.
The cheapest mayor indexed to population is the mayor of the north Mississippi town of Farmington, who makes $600 per year, or 27 cents per each of the town’s 2,210 residents.
Ultimately, Gilroy said, the power to decide government salaries belongs to the people they govern and requires vigilance. When it becomes a campaign issue, elections can act as a referendum on whether the salaries are warranted.
“Policymakers are typically in the position to set their own salaries — on the taxpayers’ dime, no less — which is something that their constituents are unable to do,” Gilroy said. “And every dollar spent on a politician’s salary is a dollar not spent on a public service or a dollar not given back to taxpayers, so taxpayers should rigorously scrutinize what elected officials are paying themselves.”