Voters to decide whether council will get pay raise

BARBARA COTTER Updated: February 12, 2013 at 12:00 am • Published: February 12, 2013

An eleventh-hour push to keep a City Council pay-raise measure off the April ballot failed Tuesday, and now it will be up to voters to decide whether council members’ compensation will jump to $48,000 a year, up from $6,250.

Councilman Tim Leigh made a motion to withdraw the proposal and instead, wait for a full review of the city charter — an approach favored by Mayor Steve Bach. But the council rejected his plan, with Lisa Czelatdko, Brandy Williams, Val Snider, Scott Hente and Jan Martin voting against it. The same five council members then voted to refer the proposed charter change to the April ballot. Leigh, Angela Dougan, Merv Bennett and Bernie Herpin voted “no.”

“I really believe in the concept that the only way we’re going to expand the size of the pool of people who want to participate in this process is to increase the salary,” Martin said.

Council members had been told earlier in the day that some of the people who originally supported the measure were, for whatever reason, going to ask that it be tabled. But when it came time to address council, the only person to speak against it was Paul Kleinschmidt, director of Taxpayers for Budget Reform. He had never supported it and also took the view that council pay needs to be part of a comprehensive charter review.

Kleinschmidt said he expected others to join the chorus to ask that the measure be kept off the ballot.

“They never stood up and presented anything,” Kleinschmidt said. “I was under the impression they were going to, and that didn’t happen, did it?”

Supporters of increased compensation for council members say it’s needed to attract a broader, more diverse and younger pool of people to council, because $6,250 is too low for anyone to serve unless they are independently wealthy, retired, have a flexible work schedule or someone to support them.

Kleinschmidt, Bach, Leigh and others who have spoken out against the measure have said they favor paying council members more, but after a more thorough, studied approach — and a time out to see if council’s role will change under a charter review or revamping of Utilities governance.

Critics also questioned how $48,000 was deemed the magic number for a raise.

“I would tend to agree that the figure that was arrived at did appear to be random and didn’t provide clarity into what other cities pay,” said Laura Neumann, Bach’s chief of staff.

Bach had encouraged young professionals to become more engaged in city affairs, and some of them helped push for the measure. Neumann said Bach still wants them to get involved in the community and run for city office, but he’s made it clear he prefers a charter review instead of tackling issues one by one.

But Martin said previous charter reviews have led to few changes, and it’s time to act on important issues.

“I don’t think we want to put the city on hold for the potential of charter change,” she said after the meeting. “I’m not opposed to addressing the issue, but I’m not sure a charter review is the panacea to fix everything.”

Kleinschmidt said his group conducted an informal poll at various locations around town, and found 80 percent of the people opposed to the measure.

“Our concern is, if you defeat it now, how to you resurrect it later?” he said. “I had hoped they would table it for six months so we could have a review done and vote in November.”

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