It’s time. In fact, it’s well past time in my view that we SLO citizens acknowledge that occupying a seat on the SLO City Council is a full-time job, and we should pay council members a living wage that reflects the effort and time that must be committed in order to fulfill the demands of the position.
The Trib’s editorial (Council job should be part-time, August 1) disagrees and gives several reasons why. Let’s go through them.
First is money. I agree that the city struggled to balance its books over the last several years but the major increase has been in staff salaries, benefits and pension costs. The city, like most governments, does not have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem.
Next, The Trib remains unconvinced “that a large pay raise would have the desired effect of increasing and diversifying the pool of qualified candidates” and goes on to cite the recent lack of interest in the supervisors’ races and the absence of a challenger for Frank Mecham’s seat, despite the $80,000+ salary. So what? Should Mr. Mecham get a salary cut because potential candidates recognize that he’s doing a great job and to run against him would be expensive, time-consuming and futile? No. Further to cite the lack of women on the Board of Supervisors, to me, makes no sense. The issue of paying council members has zero to do with diversity, neither plus or minus. The voters can choose among the candidates but we cannot prod more women to run by either increasing or decreasing council salaries. Would decreasing salaries then attract more female candidates? Again, no. There is no cause and effect.
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Finally, The Trib raises the issue of equity citing the possible need of paying a salary for planning commissioners, school board members and other councils. Fair comment. I know several folks on these boards but none of these positions (as far as I can tell) approaches the month in and month out time requirement of SLO City Council.
Let me give you a small example: I went to the city’s website, called up the agenda for the last council meeting (August 7), opened up the readings attached to the agenda (you know, the reports council must read) and discovered, to my horror, that they totaled 638 pages. Ask yourself when’s the last time you read a 638-page book, even a titillating fiction paperback?
Try wading through (my favorite this week) the 116 page Review of Draft Criteria for Application of Hydromodification Management Standards for Development Recommendation. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
Council member Andrew Carter’s recent decision to not run for the mayor’s seat this November was, in part, due the inordinate amount of time that will be taken from his private work, and I can understand his dilemma. He had to choose between food on the table for his family or the mayor’s job, which should come as no surprise, consumes even more time than a council member’s.
When my family got here in the 1950s, we found a sleepy slice of paradise with a small city government with a minor amount of requirements on the council member’s time. I remember my dad running, unsuccessfully, for a council seat knowing that if he won, it would add only a few additional hours to his work schedule. He had friends on the council at the time and he knew the demands were nominal and the reports were few and short.
Every council member over the last 10 years that I’ve talked to puts in a minimum of 30 and as much as 70 hours a week in meetings. And the reports, from multiple internal and external sources, have grown exponentially in both number and size (see above) and each must be read and discussed with a variety of groups, citizens and of course in the inevitable and lengthy council and committee meetings.
The SLO City Council is responsible for a $48 million dollar business and each one of us, as voters and taxpayers, feels we have a right to their time and attention and for the most part, every council member I’ve known has put out the effort needed to listen to all. I, of course, have not always agreed with their decisions but I honor the commitment and so should you.
I know this is a time of fiscal restraint. I would love all levels of government, not just city hall, to take an axe to their expenses and start chopping. But I also know that we now have a situation when only the retired, the business owner, or someone with an outside stream of income can run for city office. The average Joe or Mary who works 9 to 5 cannot.
It’s time to fix this long standing problem so here’s my number: $60,000 a year plus benefits while serving on the council, but no pension. It’s time.
Gordon Mullin is a financial adviser in San Luis Obispo. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.