Anonymous community leaders working with a local foundation want to donate up to $150,000 a year to help Buffalo attract the "best and brightest" managers.
The money would be used to help pay for national searches, relocation expenses and -- when necessary -- salary supplements.
Mayor Byron W. Brown and other administration officials have been discussing the issue for months with the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo.
But some Council members and the city comptroller are worried that using money from anonymous donors could raise ethical and legal problems.
Others are concerned about the fairness of using donations to provide higher salaries for top administrators when the wages of city employees have been frozen since April 2004.
"There are a lot of people who deserve more money," said Council President David A. Franczyk.
Council Finance Committee Chairman Brian C. Davis warned the practice would be unprecedented in City Hall and could "open a Pandora's box."
"Does this mean that if other city officials think people in their departments are underpaid, they can go out and get donations?" asked Davis.
"If they can secure the money, that would be great," said First Deputy Mayor Steven M. Casey, a key player in pulling together the plan.
Casey said the mayor talked with a handful of leaders from the private sector who have made a four-year commitment to help the city finance recruitment and hiring efforts. He said the fact that individuals' identities will never be disclosed creates an effective "fire wall" that dispels any ethical concerns.
Gail Johnstone, foundation president and chief executive officer, said the goal is to provide Buffalo the resources it needs to launch recruitment efforts that mirror the best practices in the corporate world.
"The city has not traditionally done national searches," said Johnstone.
One such search is under way, as officials look to fill the city's last vacant commissioner position. Casey said experts have told the city it may have to offer a salary of $130,000 or more to land a seasoned professional to supervise management information systems. By comparison, the mayor makes $105,000 a year.
While Council members and Comptroller Andrew A. SanFilippo praised the mayor and the foundation for proposing a creative way to help recruit top-notch managers, they voiced numerous concerns Tuesday.
SanFilippo said he has no problem using private donations to pay for searches and relocation expenses. But he said he would draw the line when it comes to using the money to increase paychecks of some administrators.
"We're treading on dangerous ground when we have a private foundation supplementing higher salaries. It's not so much the legal aspect as it is the ethical aspect," said SanFilippo.
If the Council agrees to accept the donations, two recent city hires would become the first beneficiaries. The administration wants to increase the salary of Community Services Commissioner Tanya Perrin-Johnson to $79,335, a $6,000 increase. The former chief executive officer of the YWCA said she took a $13,000 pay cut when she joined the Brown administration.
Deputy Mayor Angela D. Joyner would be reimbursed for some expenses associated with her relocation to Buffalo from Oakland, Calif.