Council to Consider Three Big Policy Changes – Salary, Conflict of Interest, and Campaign Contributions

Mayor Pro Tem Brett Lee

Currently the monthly salary for city councilmembers is set at $1138, or $13,656 annually, which became effective in June 2014.  Under the California Government Code, the city can provide councilmembers with an annual salary based on population, and that amount may be increased a certain amount each calendar year since the last adjustment.

Under state law, the city council could increase the salary amount up to an additional $228 per month, to be effective July 2018. City council should consider an increase of $175 per month for a total monthly salary of $1,313, or $15,756 annually.

According to a staff report submitted by Mayor Pro Tem Brett Lee, “The reason for this increase is to acknowledge the increased out of pocket expenses incurred by serving on the City Council, as well as the desire to make the option of serving more attractive for those with limited incomes.”

The mayor pro tem also looked at the $100 campaign contribution limit of $100 per person per election cycle.

The item notes that the limit was put into place in 1991.  “Since then, the population has more than doubled, the cost to run a campaign has escalated, and campaign finance laws have changed. It is timely to update the election ordinance in order to comply with current law and minimize the risk of future litigation. Adjusting for inflation, the $100 limit set in 1991 would now be approximately $180, assuming an average 2.3% inflation rate each year.”

He recommends, “City Council should consider increasing the contribution limit to $150.00. The intent is not to weaken the positive effects of a contribution limit but to account for the increased costs of campaigns.”

According to staff, other parameters to consider (based on established case law) include:

  • Contribution limits cannot be set too low. The contribution limit must not be so restrictive as to impede the ability to raise sufficient funds to mount an effective campaign.
  • Contribution limits should have a cost-of-living adjustment. As an example, the contribution limits for California state candidates are adjusted every odd-numbered year to reflect any increase or decrease in the Consumer Price Index, then rounded to the nearest hundred.
  • Contribution limits must be supported by a record demonstrating the need to prevent corruption or the appearance of corruption, such as evidence of past improper contributions. The amount of the limit may also be judged by the size of the city, the costs of media and staffing in the region, and other facts particular to our jurisdiction.

Finally, the mayor pro tem is looking to modify conflict of interest guidelines.  These, he writes, are “meant to ensure that councilmembers make policy decisions in the public interest, rather than for private benefit or gain.”

City councilmembers must disqualify themselves from matters in which “they have a financial interest of a certain threshold.”

Under current conflict of interest provisions, these fall into two broad categories.

First, in regard to those providing gifts/income to councilmembers: “Depending on who a gift is from and the estimated fair market value, declaration of amounts and nature of gifts must be disclosed. If the amounts exceed a certain threshold, then the City Councilmember may be required to recuse themselves from voting on an item which may directly benefit the person/entity that provided the gifts/income.”

Second, in regard to close family members: “Certain types of investments and financial interests of a spouse, domestic partner or dependent children must be disclosed. If the amounts exceed a certain threshold, the councilmember must announce the conflict and recuse him/herself.”

Brett Lee proposes to expand the conflict definition of close family members to include additional individuals. Specifically, “the expanded definition would include children, parents and siblings of a councilmember. It is not anticipated that additional disclosure documents would be required to implement this proposal.”

This was an item submitted by Councilmember Brett Lee and not city staff.  The next step would be for council to direct staff to return with ordinances.

—David M. Greenwald reporting



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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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27 thoughts on “Council to Consider Three Big Policy Changes – Salary, Conflict of Interest, and Campaign Contributions”

  1. Jim Hoch

    “The reason for this increase is to acknowledge the increased out of pocket expenses incurred by serving on the City Council, as well as the desire to make the option of serving more attractive for those with limited incomes.”

     

    Is CC supposed to be your primary income?

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      “Is CC supposed to be your primary income?”

      Nobody’s primary income is going to be $1300 a month. But councilmembers rightly point out that they end up with a lot of out of pocket expenses in the course of serving the public and it’s a huge time expenditure.

      1. Jim Hoch

        “end up with a lot of out of pocket expenses” They should be reimbursed for their expenses and perhaps a small discretionary fund. 

        it’s a huge time expenditure. And the raise will change that?

        If they want to work short hours and make big money they should join the fire department.

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          You don’t remember the 2013 discussion. They only get a small amount reimbursed and most use their stipend to reimburse expenses and charitable giving.

        2. Howard P

          David, you have no more knowledge of the reimbursable charges than I do… yes, I remember the 2013 discussions…

          Yet you punt on looking at total comp… again…

          I favor the increase in stipend/pay… but for the purposes of discussion, I think being transparent on ‘total comp’ would be helpful (and transparent)… you appear to adamantly disagree (by never responding to the request for this info)… fine… you must have your reasons…

  2. Howard P

    Here’s an opportunity, David, for you to discover, and disclose CC total compensation… stipend (pay), med/dental, PERS/PARS, insurance (if any) etc.

    I think total comp numbers will put the proposed increase of stipend in proper perspective.

    Keep in mind, any increase will not be effective until after the new CC takes office.

    Also, I seem to recall that Sue Greenwald voted for an increase in CC compensation during her term…

  3. Michael Bisch

    It would be helpful to hear from Brett examples of candidates being impeded in their ability to run effective campaigns by the $100 limit along with details regarding exactly how they’re being impeded. In the absence of such examples & details, how are we to assess the proposed increase?

    1. Howard P

      I agree with how that would be helpful…

      But on the contribution limit issue, I think the increase in contribution limits is more of a COLA, reflecting ‘time’ since the limit was imposed, and gives me no concern regarding undue influence possibilities…

      1. Michael Bisch

        Maybe, maybe not, HP. I don’t know much about this stuff, so I’m looking for explanations and analysis (pros & cons). I’d be naive to think the contribution limit increase is being driven by theoretical considerations (inflation). My bet is there are practical considerations driving the proposed increase. What are they?

         

        Simple math tells me that a $20,000 campaign would potentially become a $35,000 campaign and $40,000 increases to $60,000. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? What’s the tipping point between an amateur, grassroots campaign battling on values, ideas and substance versus a professionally (or semi-pro) managed campaign battling on fluff and 30 second soundbites?

         

        Maybe the practical consideration is for candidates to be able to raise more money from the same number of contributors instead of having to lend their campaigns money.  Who knows?  It would be great for council member Lee and/or someone with some local campaign expertise to educate us on this issue, so we can assess Brett’s initiative.

        1. Howard P

          All good comments and questions Michael… I know not the answers, but felt no ‘alarms’ going off on the increase… lot of other things in life I’ll ‘sweat’ before that…

        2. Keith O

          I don’t think it’s “drifting” to bring ff’s into the conversation when it comes to council donations.  Firefighter donations have been spotlighted in at least two elections that I can recall, once for what they gave and once for the council candidates knowing they had better not accept any ff donations.

        3. Howard P

          “largess”? really? “Bribing”?  really?  When publicly disclosed? whatever…

          Guess we should use the  same scrutiny for DTA and DJUSD candidates… both $ and “endorsements”… obvious largess and bribery…

          DTA is much bigger than FF union… and has a state organization watching their back, just like FF’s…

        4. Jim Hoch

          “Guess we should use the  same scrutiny for DTA and DJUSD candidates”

           

          Of course. Always look for donations from people who have business or pay in front of the group.

  4. Howard P

    As to the conflict of interest thing…

    All CC members have to file Form 700 each year, as do most City staff management folk…

    Once filed, it is a public record… all of it… so, instead of just the official and their spouse, the local proposal is to extend to

    expand the conflict definition of close family members to include additional individuals. Specifically, “the expanded definition would include children, parents and siblings of a councilmember.

    Invasive… but if CC wants to do that, fine… hope their parents, children and siblings are OK with that… some of their info would then be public record for people to “mine”, quite legally… beyond what needs to be disclosed regarding the CC members COI… their call… as for me, my parents have passed, never had a sibling.  I have to file a 700 form each year.  Would not want my children exposed to yet another opportunity for identity theft, etc.  I see no benefit for the change, but as long as it is not affecting me and mine, I really don’t care.

    To see what is involved,

    http://www.fppc.ca.gov/Form700.html

    The other question is, will the City transmit the additional info to the State, or will that be only for ‘local use’… if CC ‘goes there’, I hope they keep it localized.

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