Commentary: Pay Raises and Representation

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Council-2012-Davis-sign

In 2010, the Davis City Council was represented by two retired people, a third person who did not work, a business owner who took considerable business cutbacks in order to serve the community, and a relatively young politician who worked full time while serving on the council.

Three years later, the Davis City Council has completely turned over and the makeup of the council has changed drastically.  The oldest councilmember now is 50, whereas before, there was only one member below the age of 50.  All five councilmembers now work a full-time job in addition to their council duties.

In fact, the current makeup is more than a bit concerning.  Right now there is one person who actually works in Davis and has to travel regularly around the country as part of their work duties.  Two councilmembers commute to neighboring communities in Solano County and in Sacramento for work.  And two councilmembers now have to travel and work out of state for extended periods of time.

While the attentive reader can probably figure out most of the individuals, this piece is not about individual councilmembers and certainly not meant as an attack on the decisions of any individual councilmember.

Everyone has to put food on the table.  There are those who are concerned that Davis does not have a huge number of jobs outside of the university for the highly-qualified professional.  The breakdown on the council simply mirrors that of the community.

That is certainly one concern that some in City Hall have been trying to address through economic development work.

But there is more to the picture than just that.

Last week, the Davis City Council, after 13 years, increased the stipend of councilmembers to $1165 per month.  That comes to $13,980 per year.  That is little more than a travel expense, or perhaps a donation slush fund, for most on the council.

Unfortunately, the law limits the ability of the city to increase salaries.  According to last week’s staff report, “Davis is a general law city, and as such, rules for elected officials’ salaries are regulated by state law. Government Code authorizes the City to provide councilmembers with an annual salary based on the city’s population, which falls into the 50,000 to 75,000 range.”

Staff notes, “Salaries may be adjusted every two years, becoming effective only after a general municipal election is held and a new City Council is seated. The amount may be increased up to 5% each calendar year since the last adjustment, non-compounded. Once a change has been made, a new baseline is set, and any future increases start with the new baseline amount.”

Under the current system, assuming that we created an automatic inflator that increased the salary by ten percent for each election cycle, it would take 20 years to get the salary up to $30,000 a year, 30 years to get it to $50,000 and 36 years to get it to same $70,000 level that the Board of Supervisor representatives get today.

Even members of the Board of Supervisors work on the side.  But as it stands right now, there are three options for members of the Davis City Council.  They could be retired and living off their pensions or savings.  Or they could be independently wealthy or have another source of revenue in their family.  Or they could work, and mix their council duties with work obligations.

We can argue right now that this council is serving the community better than the one composed largely of retirees, but that is of course a subjective message.

What is more is that attentions are even more diverted as we have two members running for higher office.  This again is not an attack or a criticism of those choices, but, from the standpoint of Davis, we have representatives that are increasingly, it would appear, distracted and have their attentions divided.

At the same time, we have increasingly complex issues in front of us.  Coming before the council already was a heavy battery of issues last week, but in a lot of ways it is nothing compared to what is to come.

We have the critical decisions of the Cannery Project, we have the still-festering community issue of water, and we now have the issue of fluoridation that threatens to polarize the public.

We have a community that will be facing an exploding budget deficit.  We have to fix our labor strife, find new sources of revenue, struggle to produce a system for economic development, and determine what and how much additional revenue to seek.

Being on the Davis City Council is every bit as much of a full-time job as being a member of the County Board of Supervisors.  And yet, the supervisors not only get a full salary, but they also have two or three people on their personal staffs.

A few years ago, the city, facing the question of choice voting, turned down a ballot initiative that would have made the city a charter city.  The impetus for that charter was questionable, the need for choice voting was a minor point, and most residents rejected the charter for that reason and questions about its unintended consequences.

However, a charter could be a powerful tool for restructuring the city and salaries, and staff would be only one part under consideration.

Davis is a city that puts tremendous demands on its public representatives, and the days of having part-time councilmembers with no personal staff who are either retired or employed at other jobs might be behind us.

However, if we are to go forward as a charter city, we need to have a good and clear vision for what that means, what that would include – and the downside consequences would need to be clearly spelled out. The vague and amorphous document that emerged will not work in Davis.

At the same time, the current situation is not exactly tenable either.  We will have to see in the coming months what the consequences of a council that is no longer in town most of the time will mean.

—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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35 thoughts on “Commentary: Pay Raises and Representation”

  1. Mr.Toad

    Interesting that most of them work out of town. In a roundabout way its takes on the idea that we should only build houses for people who work in Davis. Obviously we should make room for people who want to live here regardless of where they work.

  2. David M. Greenwald

    Mr. Toad: I think it speaks in part to the jobs-housing imbalance but also to the fact that we really need to pay our councilmembers to be the full time public servants they are and most of us want to be.

  3. hpierce

    Let’s include total compensation for CC members…

    Despite repeated requests of David (and the City) I’ve not seen answers to the following (unless I missed a post when on vacation, but know I can’t find it on the City website):

    Does the CC members get medical? What is the “value” of that?

    Are they eligible for ‘retiree medical’? What are the “service requirements” to become eligible?

    Do they get dental coverage for them and their families?

    Do they participate in PERS/PARS? What are the City’s and the CC members contribution?

    Are they covered by City paid Life insurance? Unemployment insurance (should they lose an election)?

    Transparency? Not… salary considerations pale in comparison to the potential other benefits.

  4. hpierce

    Forgot, but I think David did address this… if CC members are entitled to ‘cafeteria bebefits’, how much can they cash out or put into deferred comp? If the latter, is there a City “match”?

  5. Frankly

    David on the council? Yikes!

    At least then he could work to make all council meetings kid-friendly. 😉

    Now back to the topic.

    When being a politician becomes a paying career, we corrupt the very proven effective design of representative government. With some exception, the financial incentive for all elected politicians should be just enough to cover the personal financial hardship they endure.

    Note that our council members are generally adding value to their CV with their stint. Other than that they are supposed to be motivated as public servants. That has been the design of our representative democracy… regular people taking time out of their regular lives to serve, and then go back to their regular lives so someone else can serve.

    One of the biggest problems we face with the lack of quality of government in general, is that we have allowed it to become a career for too many people.

  6. David M. Greenwald

    “Does the CC members get medical? What is the “value” of that?”

    They have the option for medical, but I don’t know that any take it.

    “Are they eligible for ‘retiree medical’? What are the “service requirements” to become eligible?”

    I believe five years is the service requirements.

    “Do they get dental coverage for them and their families?”

    I think they get a similar package to other employees.

    “Do they participate in PERS/PARS? What are the City’s and the CC members contribution?”

    Do not believe they do. Checking though.

    “Are they covered by City paid Life insurance? Unemployment insurance (should they lose an election)?”

    No

  7. David M. Greenwald

    “When being a politician becomes a paying career, we corrupt the very proven effective design of representative government. “

    I don’t agree with this point. We’re not talking about people making a lot of money or even enough to live comfortably. But there needs to be a reasonable compensation or that can become a more corrupting influence.

  8. Frankly

    It is not financial corruption, it is corruption of purpose and perspective. You need to have a career/job/life outside of politics so you are able to be one of the by the people for the people. If you are making your living as a politician, you will be unable to sufficiently relate to the people. Government should not be another industry, but that is what we have allowed it to become… people pursuing it as a career because there is money to be made.

    Read “This Town”. It is about DC, but it applies to politics in general.

  9. Frankly

    [i]Don’t worry even if I did want office – which I do not – I’ve rendered myself unelectable[/i]

    You have a greater impact on local politics running the Vanguard, IMO.

  10. SouthofDavis

    David wrote:

    > That comes to $13,980 per year. That is little more
    > than a travel expense, or perhaps a donation slush fund,
    > for most on the council.

    It is a little more than “travel expense” since you can lease a brand new Mercedes or BMW “and” cover all your council related travel expense for under $1K a month.

    It is also close to the take home pay of a typical person working 40 hours a week for minimum wage all year.

    It is also more money than most people who own a “free and clear” half million dollar Davis home will receive in rent less expenses each year.

  11. SouthofDavis

    hpierce asked:

    > Does the CC members get medical?
    > What is the “value” of that?

    Then David wrote:

    > They have the option for medical,
    > but I don’t know that any take it.

    I would be interested if they can “cash out” medical like most other city of Davis employees if they are covered by another medical policy.

    Health care for my family is averaging about $25K a year (we don’t have dental insurance and pay ~$1K/year cash for routine dental care).

    Is there a way to find the “total cost of employment” for the city council (or have the buired the costs so no one will ever know).

  12. Growth Izzue

    I agree with Frankly. What do you get when you pay higher salaries for government representitives? You get people that make it a lifetime job because they can’t do anything else like Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.

    No thanks!

  13. Jim Frame

    While I don’t think CC members should have to go out-of-pocket in order to perform their duties, I don’t think they should make money on the deal, either. Serving on the CC is a huge commitment, but if the motivation isn’t purely public service, then in my opinion they’re not a good fit for the job.

    I also don’t buy the argument that raising CC pay will attract a significantly higher number of good candidates. I simply find it hard to believe that any qualified candidates are so close to the financial edge that CC pay at its current level is going to make the difference between serving and not serving.

  14. SouthofDavis

    David wrote:

    > SOD-it’s what, about one-seventh of
    > median income for this town.

    If $13,900 is “about one-seventh of median income for this town” that means that the “median income for this town” is “almost $100K”. The Wikipedia says that the per capita income for Davis is $22,937 (about 1.6x what the city council pays).

    I’m not saying that the city council is overpaid and don’t have a problem if they re paid more (since we pay the firefighters who probably work less hours for the city over 10x more), but in the past you have shared that you don’t make a ton of money and I don’t get why you seem to want to make $13,900 sound like a trivial avount of money when it is a big deal to just about anyone not in the actual “top 1%”.

  15. JustSaying

    I think we’ve been paying our council members an embarrassingly small amount for years. It bothers me that past councils haven’t acted (probably on the same theory of a current councilman who bemoaned the “optics” of raising the pay).

    There should be no “out of pocket expenses” for city council members; travel, dues, registration fees and other costs of doing the job should be fully reimbursed.

    Given David’s calculations of the maxim increases allowable over the coming decades, we’ll never be adequately reimbursing people for doing a full-time job as our elected leaders. Still, we’ve done pretty well with the token amounts in the past, so I don’t see this a big deal either way.

    I do think we should see an accounting of the full pay and benefits involved the council service, and am surprised this wasn’t part of the staff report.

  16. David M. Greenwald

    So I got a few things wrong in my earlier response.

    One takes medical. Other four get cash out of 500per month…which has to be deposited into deferred comp account.

    Three get PERS, other two get PERS through work already.

    Retiree medical available if council member has at least five years of PERS service and is over 50 and retires at end of Council term.

  17. Mr.Toad

    ” I don’t get why you seem to want to make $13,900 sound like a trivial avount of money when it is a big deal to just about anyone not in the actual ‘top 1%’.”

    Please, for crying out loud, its not a lot of money to lots of people in Davi,s few of whom are in the top 1 percent. It would be a lot of money to my mother, may she rest in peace. Of course in her day movies and candy bars cost 5 cents.

    “Wikipedia says that the per capita income for Davis is $22,937 (about 1.6x what the city council pays).”

    Do you know what per capita means? It means everybody, including children with no income, and, students with little. This also means the average income for a family of 4 is almost $92,000. Doesn’t seem so big compared to that calculation.

  18. SODA

    I have more difficulty with paying benefits to CC persons than salary. I do not consider them employees therefore I do not think we should be paying benefits, especially cash outs and retirement.

  19. shamusd

    How can it be a full time job when every important decision is made by a vote of the people? If the people want to elect representatives to do their will yes, lets pay them. The people of Davis do not trust this process, so why pay them anything more than a stipend. Just saying.

  20. shamusd

    Please, Pam and Eileen you must chime in. Oh wait the anonymity clause of the Vanguad protects you from contradicting yourselves. Its best to live in a glass house….

  21. JustSaying

    “Retiree medical available if council member has at least five years of PERS service and is over 50 and retires at end of Council term.”

    How much does this cost, and how many retired council members now are covered?

    So, the salaries are supplemented half again as much (by $6,000) for the council members who already have their own health insurance. Did the firefighters get this idea from the council or visa versa?

    Seems as though we ought to just pay them a decent salary and forget all of the hidden employee benefits. On the other hand, I suspect our state legislators are hooked up with these same deals. Maybe you should reconsider your candidacy, David.

  22. medwoman

    [quote] hidden employee benefits[/quote]

    I think its hard to take that adjective “hidden” seriously when the numbers are bandied about here on the
    Vanguard on a regular basis. For that alone we need to keep David here.

  23. SouthofDavis

    Mr.Toad wrote:

    > Please, for crying out loud, its not a lot of money
    > to lots of people in Davis

    I’m sure $19,900 (Council pay with the $500/month health care cash out) is not a lot of money to David and Toad, but it is more than most of the people that live in Davis pay (for rent or mortgage) for housing in a year.

    I would also like to get more details on the retirement since a policy that pays $19,000 after just 5 years of service is a worth more than half a million so to be fair we need to add $100K to each year of “service”.

    I agree with SODA lets pay them a decent wage based on the hours they work and not add in a lot of hidden extras (that our kids will be paying the current youngsters on the council in 50 years)…

    P.S. I’m wondering if Toad will get many people in Davis to say “no big deal, for crying out loud, its not a lot of money” when he asks them to donate over 1,500 to a charity every month for five years…

  24. David M. Greenwald

    “Council pay with the $500/month health care cash out”

    They don’t get to cash out the $500 per month with their pay. The $500 goes into an account and they get it at a later point in time.

  25. Mr.Toad

    “P.S. I’m wondering if Toad will get many people in Davis to say “no big deal, for crying out loud, its not a lot of money” when he asks them to donate over 1,500 to a charity every month for five years…”

    Huh?

  26. Birdman

    Justsaying wrote:
    [quote]So, the salaries are supplemented half again as much (by $6,000) for the council members who already have their own health insurance. Did the firefighters get this idea from the council or visa versa? [/quote]

    I believe all city employees receive this “Cafeteria Benefit” you are speaking of, not just the firefighters.

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