Newcastle council chief executive officer Jeremy Bath says his $465,000 salary is justified by the stability he has brought to the role.
Councillors voted last week in confidential session to hand Mr Bath a 1.75 per cent performance pay rise on top of the standard 2.5 per cent he receives as a senior executive office holder.
The decision boosted Mr Bath's annual remuneration from $446,000 to $465,000, an amount which does not include the $50,000 he receives as a director on two boards at the council-owned Newcastle Airport.
Mr Bath's salary has risen by 19 per cent since he was appointed interim CEO two and a half years ago.
His pay, excluding the directors' fees, is about $60,000 more than Lake Macquarie council boss Morven Cameron will earn this year.
He will be paid $55,000 more than Greg Doyle earns to run Wollongong council.
The Newcastle chief's salary is comparable to that of Maitland City Council general manager David Evans, who oversees a local government area about half the size of Newcastle but has been in the job for 21 years. Mr Evans was paid $442,000 last year, according to Maitland council's 2018-19 annual report.
Central Coast Council CEO Gary Murphy was paid $468,000 last financial year to steer a local government area twice as big as Newcastle.
Mr Bath said on Tuesday that his salary was a "decision for the council regarding what they need to pay to secure the right CEO".
"I know we are well paid, but I also know how well our city is performing and the stability I have brought to the role," he said.
Mr Bath was appointed as interim CEO in May 2017 and assumed the role full-time in December of the same year.
"I'm now the longest-serving general manager of City of Newcastle in more than 10 years," he said.
The council returned a $9.4 million surplus in 2018-19, its sixth surplus in a row since being granted two special rate variations.
He implemented a program of cultural and structural change which led to the exit of a host of senior staff and the chairman of the council's audit and risk committee.
Mr Bath has also been a combative figure in his often-public dealings with the city's business improvement associations, maritime museum and more vocal community agitators.
Compared with Ms Cameron, Mr Evans, Mr Doyle and Mr Murphy, he arrived at Newcastle council with relatively little experience in local government administration.
He was a communications officer at Fairfield City Council for 21 months from 2002 to 2004 then spent almost nine years as media relations manager at ClubsNSW before moving to Hunter Water in 2013 as public affairs manager, customer services executive manager and, finally, interim chief executive officer from 2015 to 2016.
A City of Newcastle spokesperson said the $50,000 fees for airport directors, including Mr Bath and lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes, were not paid by ratepayers.
Council bosses are not the only senior public servants paid handsomely in the Hunter.
The chief executive of Hunter Water received $570,000 last financial year, up from $450,000 four years earlier, and University of Newcastle's vice-chancellor was paid almost $1 million in 2018.