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Commission submits proposed charter amendments

By Staff | May 7, 2011

The Charter Review Commission will present proposed changes to 12 of the city’s charter provisions on Monday, including two that could give council members a big salary boost as well as added hourly pay for attending meetings outside of regular council sessions.
As it stands, sitting council members earn $15,651.90 a year, based on $.17 cents per registered voter; while the mayor makes $18,414 a year, based on .20 cents per registered voter.
One proposed amendment would see salaries based on the city’s population, which now stands 154,305, according to the 2010 census. The increase would be roughly $10,000 for each member of council.
Charter Review Commissioner William “Scott” Morris said council pay based on registered voters isn’t fair, because whether constituents vote or not, council members are still responsible for representing everyone in the city.
Morris said this the change would open up council seats to those who can’t make a living on the current compensation.
“You can’t make everyone on your council be retired people. To have good people serving, you’re going to have to make it more financially attractive,” he said.
City council can vote to place some, none or all of the charter amendments on November’s ballot, so citizens can themselves vote to change the city’s guiding document.
Should the pay increase proposal make the ballot, and be approved by voters, Morris said the new pay structure would not take effect until 2013.
Morris thinks that voters might support the matter since the increase would be two years away.
“If it was immediate, I’d be upset, too,” Morris said. “But this is down the road. And we better hope our economy is better in two years.”
Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz said it would likely be in the city’s best interest to increase council’s pay to a “livable wage” as opposed to a “poverty wage”, which he said the council is currently being paid.
He said there likely are potential candidates who simply couldn’t make the commitment to public office because of the current compensation and an increase might open the city up, a bit.
“It’s a shame when you lose good people,” he said.
Councilmember Marty McClain said he would support an increase in annual wage, but could not get behind paying additionally for functions or meetings attended by council outside of the regular duties.
For a council that recently argued the merits of additional pay for continuing education, McClain said it wouldn’t make sense for the same council to support being paid hourly for doing what’s expected of an elected official.
“We all knew there were certain commitments that came with the job,” McClain said. “I can’t agree with additional pay. If you’re arguing additional pay for employees, why would you promote additional pay for council members?”
William “Scott” Morris said different charter review commissioners will be presenting different items and that he’ll act in a facilitator role, though he will be presenting changes pertaining to the filling of vacancies on council.
Currently, sitting council members can be suspended if they are arrested for a felony or first degree misdemeanor. Council can then vote to replace that individual, but the proposed changes would put that power into the hands of the governor.
“It removes the council from controversy,” Morris said.
City council meets 4:30 p.m., Monday, in council chambers.
Council members Kevin McGrail and Derrick Donnell could not be reached for comment.