We Lose Accounability if Council is allowed to set its own Salary
Presently our City Council is a part-time Council. Its members’ salary, under the city
charter, is fixed by California’s Government Code. Measure C would alters this by
allowing the Council, by ordinance, to decide for itself its salary.
The sample ballot pamphlet’s argument in favour of Measure C, signed by three council
members, states that the total annual salary for the Council currently is $17,160. This
statement is only half true and can only serve to misguide the public who reads and
relays on it.
The Glendale News Press pointed out that the figure “is itself a bit misleading, as it
jumps to around $56,000 when…benefits kick in.” According to the website,
Transparent California, for 2013 one council member, whose regular pay was $17,725,
received a total council member’s compensation of $60,930 when adding in other pay
and benefits. In fact that website shows that the total compensation in 2013 for all city
council members, except one, was well over $50,000. And the one exception was a
council member who was first elected in April of that year.
One might understandably speculate whether the council members’ argument was
carefully crafted to be true as far as it went: but, to be true, while at the same time
presenting a deceptive, or at least a less than complete picture, of council members
actual total compensation. Even if we do not speculate whether the statement was
consciously or unconsciously misleading on the part of the council members who made
it, it illustrates an important point.
When individuals are left to their own devices when it comes to the salary that they
should be paid, the tendency is to consciously or unconsciously overreach in favor of
maximizing their compensation. The most extreme recent example of this are individual
salaries in the high hundreds of thousands of dollars paid by the city of Bell.
For the moment let’s assume council members should be able to increase
compensation for their part-time job beyond California’s Government Code limitations.
Then to guard against overreaching, conscious or unconscious, we should only agree to
that if those increases are subject to approval by Council’s employers, its citizens–only
if the charter is amended to require the electorate’s approval of such increases. One
reason for No on Measure C is that it allows the council to become a law unto itself
when setting its salary. It seems to me, on its face, that is not a good thing.