Portland’s top municipal attorney will receive a retroactive raise and nearly $12,000 in back pay dating to 2019.

The City Council voted unanimously Monday to award Corporation Counsel Danielle West-Chuhta retroactive raises of 3 percent for 2019 and 2020, raising her salary to $148,473 a year.

Mayor Kate Snyder said during the meeting that the raise was in line with increases granted to other nonunion employees but West-Chuhta did not receive because the council had not conducted the required performance evaluations for several years. She said the city was “very, very lucky” to have West-Chuhta as its attorney.

“I’m incredibly grateful to corporation counsel for the work that’s done, which seems to get more complex by the day,” Snyder said.

The raise, however, drew criticism for happening at a time when city workers have been furloughed because of the coronavirus pandemic and when the city, based on West-Chuhta’s legal advice, has said people working for Portland businesses are not entitled to earn hazard pay of at least $18 an hour during the pandemic.

West-Chuhta has been in the hot seat in recent years, particularly with regard to citizen initiatives.


Last month, West-Chuhta advised the council that a hazard pay provision in a new minimum wage ordinance approved by over 60 percent of voters would not take effect until 2022. That position was directly at odds with the intent of People First Portland, which drafted that and four other citizen initiatives and intended the hazard pay provision to take effect during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The legal opinion led to uncertainty among Portland-based employers about whether they should pay the higher wage now or risk being sued. Some businesses joined the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce in a legal bid to overturn the hazard pay provision, or at least rule that it doesn’t take effect until 2022.

West-Chuhta also concluded that the broader voter-approved minimum wage referendum, including a gradual increase to $15 an hour by 2024, does not apply to city workers, because the charter prevents citizen initiatives from affecting city wages.

In 2019, West-Chuhta said a clean election fund for municipal candidates could not be created through a citizen initiative, and that it would need to be studied by a formal charter commission first. Although the proponents, Fair Elections Portland, are challenging that opinion in court, residents voted overwhelmingly in July to form a charter commission.

People First Portland volunteer Peter McLaughlin criticized the council for granting the raise in light of West-Chuhta’s legal opinion regarding the hazard pay, which is now before the court, and the fact that city workers have been furloughed during the pandemic. He also criticized the council for agreeing to pay City Manager Jon Jennings a $21,000 bonus at the end of his current contract.

“While the council has attempted to block low-wage workers – including city staff – from getting the hazard pay they deserve and furloughed scores of public employees, they approved a $21,173 bonus for the city manager and now this,” McLaughlin said. “City Hall is pushing austerity for everyone but their highest-paid employees. We look forward to opening the charter and fundamentally changing who this city works for.”


Jennings’ bonus was based on his previous contract. And Snyder said Tuesday that the council agreed to pay it out when his contract expired because it had failed to conduct his evaluation for years.

West-Chuhta’s raise put the council’s three newly elected councilors on the spot because they were being asked to grant a raised based on a performance evaluation in which they did not participate.

West-Chuhta was given a performance review by the council on Nov. 19. Mark Dion, April Fournier and Andrew Zarro were elected on Nov. 3, but were not sworn into office until Dec. 7.

Fournier had hoped to abstain from the vote, until she was informed that abstentions are not allowed under council rules.

“One thing I don’t feel comfortable with is endorsing someone’s performance review that I didn’t have any part in or any discussion in,” Fournier said. “What’s being presented is a direct reflection of the evaluation itself. That’s really where my conflict comes in – not that corporation counsel isn’t qualified to do what she’s done.”

Dion, meanwhile, urged Fournier to support the request, saying it’s an example of a situation where one must “trust the good judgment of our colleagues.”

“I’m electing (to take) the opportunity to ratify the collective good judgment of our colleagues on the council,” Dion said. “They have been afforded the evidence. They have had the conversations. And they have assessed the evaluation. That’s why I can vote for passage.”

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