Friday, August 10, 2007

Why City Council Salaries Matter

The City of Flagstaff has initiated its quadrennial review of salaries of the mayor and members of the city council. While barely on the radar of most citizens, this process and its outcomes are critical to Flagstaff and the kind of city it becomes.

Here's why. Currently city council members make about $12,000 per year. Think of it as $250 a week. But to really do the job right, it's a half-time job requiring a minimum of 20 hours per week.

Pay that low limits the pool of potential city council candidates significantly . It tilts the playing field to those who don't have to earn a decent living during those 20 hours plus each week.

Yes, there are exceptions. Al White is unable to work, gets monthly disability payments, and actually has to limit the amount of pay he gets from the city so as not to jeopardize his disability payments. But he wouldn't mind at all if he could get a salary that exceeded his disability amount. Then he would take the salary instead of the disability.

Rick Swanson has an employer (North Country Community Health Center), who grants him some flexibility so he can meet his council responsibilities. Even so, he ends up having to use vacation time when the council goes into a 3 day budget retreat.

Karen Cooper is retired, as is Joe Donaldson.

The point is that low council salary makes service on the council more accessible to those who can afford it. If we want city government to reflect the values of the people of Flagstaff, not just the development industry, then we need to pay our council members enough so that the average person can afford to be on the city council.

The city is currently forming a citizen commission, based on names submitted at a recent meeting of the chairs of the city's boards and commissions, that will study the issue and make recommendations to the city council. Their recommendations could determine the composition of the Flagstaff City Council for the next several years.

Remember, it's your town, too.

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