In the 41/2 years since Camden's Willie Hunter took over as director of the city's Parking Authority, his salary has practically doubled. Last week, a raise of about $18,000 brought his annual pay to $115,000, officials said.

Hunter, a politically connected former member of the authority's board, started in January 2012 with a salary of $62,500. He now makes more than Mayor Dana Redd, who earns $102,000.

Hunter last week referred questions to Brett Wiltsey, a Cherry Hill-based lawyer who is special counsel to the authority. Wiltsey said Jose Martinez, chairman of the authority's board, had recommended that Hunter receive the pay increase and a five-year contract.

At the time Hunter took over, the authority was struggling with financial difficulties due to snow-cleanup bills, increases in pension payments, and downtown construction that obstructed parking meters and led to a drop in revenue. By late 2011, the authority was $66,000 in debt.

Wiltsey said Hunter has brought stability and increased revenue to the agency, and ushered in improvements such as pay-by-phone parking meters at a time when the city is in the midst of major development projects. He said the salary was in line with those of other parking authority directors throughout New Jersey.

"I don't think anyone can say he hasn't been active in this role," Wiltsey said.

Some detractors have long been skeptical of Hunter's qualifications and have complained that he was hired for the job because of his political connections to City Council members, Mayor Redd and her longtime mentor and aide, Novella Hinson.

Karl Walko, president of Camden County Council 10, which represents about 30 rank-and-file employees at the authority, agreed that the authority's finances are solid. Still, Hunter's pay increase didn't sit well with Walko, who is in the midst of contract negotiations for its union members. The authority's most recent offer included a 1 percent raise, he said, as well as attempts at weakening the contract language. Most rank-and-file members, such as cashiers and maintenance workers, earn salaries in the $29,000 to $45,000 range.

"Giving him this kind of raise is a joke," Walko said. "He has no formal training or experience for this position in the first place."

The public authority is funded by fees and parking revenue. The 2016 budget submitted to the state for approval lists total revenues of $4,943,892 with appropriations of $4,547,015.

Hunter was appointed a commissioner of the authority's board by City Council in 2001 and resigned four years later, having by then become the board's chairman. Two weeks later he accepted the newly created position of director of maintenance for the authority but was quickly removed from the $52,000 post when the board chairwoman learned that state ethics laws require board members to wait one year before applying for a job with the agency they serve.

In 2008, Hunter was again appointed to the authority's board by City Council. He resigned in May 2010, going to work as a driver for the South Jersey Transportation Authority, where he earned about $30,000.

856-779-3876 @AESteele