I have a one word rebuttal to those who believe higher City Council pay will result in a better quality of leadership: Congress. Congress isn’t any less a circus because each of the clowns now makes $174,000 per year (plus a benefits and pension package fit for a king). There is no correlation between performance and pay in the political realm, except perhaps a reverse correlation, since there’s ample evidence suggesting that turning politics into a well-paid (or even reasonably well-paid profession) is no guarantor that better performance will result.
Bold leadership of the sort we say we’re craving is even less likely to be demonstrated by a power-clinging politico whose livelihood depends on re-election. A poorly paid amateur, in contrast, has relatively little to lose by taking a correct but politically difficult stand. I trust much more in a politician in it out of passion than a politician in it for a paycheck.
The easiest way to increase the number and quality of people able to serve on City Council/Utilities Board — if that is the primary goal here — is to move meeting times from weekday afternoons, when most people are working, to evening hours, which would permit more people not only to serve but to participate. I pushed for this while on the council but the idea was shot-down, for reasons that were silly, self-serving or outdated. Daytime meetings are a relic of the city manager system, when what was convenient for city staff was deemed more important than what was convenient for the general public. That model is gone so a rethinking is in order.
This simple scheduling change would cost nothing, but greatly expand leadership opportunities for people who work 9 to 5. If we did it now, or very soon, the pool of people interested in running in April would grow considerably. Out of that larger pool some cream would undoubtedly rise.
Many cities function quite well with councils that meet in the evening. Marathon sessions that stretch past midnight could be avoided simply by running meetings with more efficiency. Evening meetings would be attended not just by the narrowly interested, who happen to have an item of special concern on the docket that day, but by the general public, who may be prevented from taking part now by day jobs or other obligations. The new arrangement might be less convenient for the city or utilities staff who are required to attend, and it might hike the city’s coffee bill by a couple of bucks each month, but those are small drawbacks as compared to the obvious advantages.
Jumping directly to paying council members 600 percent percent more, without first trying this much simpler and more affordable way to broaden the leadership pool, is a leap too far, in my opinion, that will flop at the ballot box.
I also agree with those who say we still have some work to do, sorting out roles and responsibilities, particularly pertaining to utilities business, before we can determine a more equitable pay rate for councilors. More responsibility might argue for more pay, but I don’t see that responsibilities have grown any — and they may even be diminished somewhat under the new structure.
Uncertainty about the future status and governance structure of Utilities makes a pay hike now seen short-sighted and premature. A few more wrinkles in the new system need ironing-out before we can coherently discuss the merits of higher pay.
That’s my two cents worth for now, off the cuff. I reserve the right to throw in another dime, or maybe even a quarter, as the debate unfolds.
Sean Paige is a former city councilman who now works at deputy state director for Americans for Prosperity.