That cracking and crunching some may have heard coming from the Community Chambers at City Hall on Tuesday was the sound of City Council members walking on eggshells at their meeting while discussing how much money they should pay themselves.
But while the city’s elected officials all acknowledged the awkward position they were in, with an eye toward properly compensating future city leaders and attracting a more diverse group of candidates for the job, the council voted 4-1 to increase the monthly salary, or stipend, for a City Council member by about two-fold, from $669.42 per month to $1,138.
Mayor Pro Tem Dan Wolk dissented.
The pay increases will take effect when a new council is seated in July after the June City Council election. The council hasn’t given itself a raise since 2000.
“I know the amount of work that I put into this job,” said Councilman Lucas Frerichs, who made the motion to increase the council members’ salaries. “It sometimes takes more precedent and priority than my actual full-time paid job, because this is actually a full-time job.”
When presented with the issue last year, the council decided to enlist the help of the city’s Finance and Budget Commission before making a decision. The commission deliberated the matter over several meetings but its recommendation on how much to compensate the city’s policymakers was far from unanimous, essentially leaving the decision up to the council members.
Wolk, the lone dissenting vote on the raise Tuesday, said the $30,000 or so saved by keeping the salaries status quo could be better spent elsewhere in the city, especially considering the programs the city has had to cut in recent years.
Also, Wolk said a raise sends the wrong message to the city’s employees, from whom the council has been asking for concessions over the past few years.
“I think that in this financial period where we’re cutting, and every dollar counts, I think raising council compensation is not a good idea, not only financially but also for the optics of it,” Wolk said.
Councilwoman Rochelle Swanson said, however, that the lower the salary for a council member, the more it limits the type of individual who can actually serve the city in that role.
“I think that it’s unfortunate, that that becomes something,” Swanson said. “I know that’s not a community value that only retired people or people of means are able to serve on the City Council.”
Councilman Brett Lee attempted to bridge the two sides by offering to allocate the pay raise that a current council member would receive to the lifeline water utility rate assistance program so that no council members would be directly voting for a raise for themselves.
“The idea there would be for all the people up here voting that we actually don’t see that increase, but we’re setting the stage so when a future council takes their positions, at least they’re starting from a more reasonable baseline,” Lee said.
But City Attorney Harriet Steiner said the council could not mandate that a portion of a council member’s salary go into a specific city fund. Frerichs and Swanson also both said they’d prefer not to be locked in to dedicating the money to only one benefit.
Meanwhile, Mayor Joe Krovoza agreed that the amount of time council members put in to the job deserves more compensation.
“The number of hours estimated per year at 800 is absurd,” Krovoza said. “It’s these meetings that take sometimes six to eight hours apiece, it’s the preparation for these meetings, which is almost always an equal amount of time or more.
“I think if we want younger people and we want people of lower income and we want people of diverse experiences to serve on this council, we have to value their time and it will make this community richer.”
Only Frerichs and Lee are guaranteed to reap the benefits of the raise. Swanson’s term ends in 2014; she has said she intends to seek re-election.
Krovoza will not run for City Council when his term ends in 2014, as he’s campaigning instead for the Assembly’s 4th District seat, currently held by Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, D-Davis. Wolk is running against Krovoza for that seat in the Assembly, but he would remain on the council should he lose.
— Reach Tom Sakash at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @TomSakash