The discussion on compensation for city council reminded me of one of my biggest pet peeves – we do not adequately compensate our city council for the full-time work that they do. Last month, the council approved a $175 salary increase that would bring their salary up to $1313 a month, or $15,756 annually.
Compare that to the Yolo County Board of Supervisors who in 2016 got $61,000 in regular pay, total pay of around $93,000. Benefits at $19,000. For a total compensation of $112 to $113 thousand.
In addition, the supervisors get two full-time deputies who work directly for them.
The city council compensation is limited right now under state law. 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.
Instead, they did not even take the maximum $228 increase and settled for $175.
In order to rectify this, the council would have to go away from being a general law city and become a charter city. But I think, for a whole host of reasons, they ought to consider becoming a charter city – and not just because of this issue. It would give the city more flexibility on types of taxation and also things like police oversight. But I digress.
There are a lot of reasons to consider this change. But yes, in this case, if you offered the council even the same compensation package as the Board of Supervisors, you are looking at more than a half million increase in cost which is not insubstantial. And $60,000, while a lot better than $15,000, is not exactly a substantial amount these days.
But here is my reasoning:
- Let us be honest, the council is a full-time job whether we call it that or not. The formal requirements have a relatively short time commitment a few days a month. But there are subcommittees, there are two-by-two’s, there are commission liaison duties, there are regional bodies, there are joint powers. There are weeks when councilmembers have formal meetings every single day.
- Councilmembers are not staffed individually. That is a big problem in and of itself that I think eventually we will need to change as well. But on the big issues, the councilmembers meet with the city manager, they meet with staffers, they do their own research if they are being diligent, they meet with stakeholders in the community, business leaders, neighbors, and others.
- Then there are community events. You go to pretty much any community event in Davis, any public meeting and you will find at least one and sometimes more than one councilmember. The Vanguard has held at least ten public forums or discussions this year – at least one and sometimes two councilmembers have gone to every single one of them.
- Everyone has different priorities and such, but you cannot go to a public event without running into either Mayor Robb Davis or Councilmember Lucas Frerichs. Those two are everywhere, but the council itself is very active in the community and that is time away from their families and other commitments.
- When the Vanguard first started in 2006, the council had three retirees and two people working – one of whom took a substantial income decrease in order to serve on the council. These days, all five councilmembers hold full-time jobs in addition to the 40 hours or more a week they put into their council commitments. I believe that not only is that taxing on the individual councilmember, but it likely limits the field of people willing to run for council to those who can either do their full-time job while serving on council, those who are retired (which right now is no one on the council) or those who are independently wealthy.
People will say that Davis cannot afford to pay its council a full salary and they have a point. We certainly need to deal with the fiscal issues. Unlike the tens of thousands involved in the current compensation, paying even five people $100 thousand plus a year in total compensation is real money.
But if we want good public service and want to encourage people to come forward and take on tough challenges, stay until late in the evening away from their families, and then take public abuse at times that crosses the lines of decency, I think we need to compensate them appropriately.
—David M. Greenwald reporting