Commentary: Council Should Be Fully Compensated for Their Work

Brett Lee

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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

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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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  1. Keith O

    We certainly don’t have any problem filling the positions, look at the number of candidates that are already seeking the job.  Nobody is forcing anyone to take the position.  There’s obviously something other than money that attracts them.

    1. David Greenwald

      “Nobody is forcing anyone to take the position. There’s obviously something other than money that attracts them.”

      But is that the point? Yes, we are drawing from people who are motivated beyond money, but are we also eliminating people who might be assets who can’t do it, because of money?

      1. Keith O

        We don’t have the money.  You don’t seem to have very many (if any) gripes with the council anymore so obviously in your mind the job must be getting done so why would we take on the extra financial burden if we don’t need to?

      2. Jim Hoch

        “but are we also eliminating people who might be assets who can’t do it, because of money?”


        Like the editor of The Vanguard, to use a random example?

        1. David Greenwald

          I will categorically state that I have no interest in serving on the council – ever – under any conditions.  Not sure I can be more clear on that point.

  2. Jim Hoch

    A truly terrible idea. This is the “rent control” of political theory. It will have two immediate effects neither of which I believe is desirable.

    1: Reduce the pool of citizens who are willing to serve. If this is a fulltime job then people who become CC members will need to quit their jobs if elected. Many otherwise qualified people will not want to quite their jobs and therefore will not run. People who have professional skills and career aspirations other than “career politician” will be discouraged. We will instead get people who view this as the first step on a political career, politicians who have been termed out or lost and need a place to get a paycheck while potting a comeback, or people who just need a job. For example a resume of “40 years of protesting” would incline one towards becoming a CC member.

    2: People who have made the commitment to become a CC member would never leave unless they could obtain higher office. This would significantly change the way they approach the job as re-elect-ability would be foremost in all decisions.


  3. Robert Canning

    Let’s see, if the City general fund is around $60 million the City Council compensation is (give or take a few thousand dollars) about 0.0025% of the GF. And you don’t believe the city can afford that? You think they should do it for free?

    1. Keith O

      They were probably thinking the same thing when our city had a $30 million budget.  What’s another 0.0025% here or there for this project or that.  All of a sudden we’re looking at $60 million budget.  Those .0025%’s add up and now we’re looking at shortfalls and more taxation.  We’ve got to draw the line somewhere.

      1. David Greenwald

        What adds up is when you put a 36% pay increase into effect and then you have the enormous unfunded liability for health care and pensions.  And then you don’t fund roads for years and allow the deferred maintenance to increase to over $100 million, maybe over $200 million.  THAT is what killed us – big ticket costs, not small things that added up.

        1. Howard P

          Actually you are only partly right…

          The pension liabilities are in large part because the City chose to ‘pay as you go’, instead of funding liabilities as they accrued, paying as little as they could.  This was compounded when PERS told the City it was ‘super-funded’, and for a few years the City contributed nothing… spending money on “fun” things.  Then, the heady time for investment returns went sideways.  Had the City kept up its original funding, instead of taking the ‘contribution holiday’, today the liabilities would have been manageable.

          Similar to retire medical… the City chose to ‘pay as you go’, not putting away money on an actuarial basis. The same applies…

          Will comment on the other points, later…

          1. David Greenwald


            The pension liabilities are more than just that. I agree with you that the super-funding was a problem because the city got complacent. But every time you do a pay increase, you create an unfunded liability because PERS is retroactively calculated. I agree that the failure to put away money on actuarial basis was a problem as well.

        2. Howard P

          David, please note I said you were partly right… had the City ‘budgeted in’ the increase of pension liabilities, when they changed the formulae, or the salary increases, perhaps history (or, certainly financing) would have been different.

          But today, “it is what it is”, and it needs to be addressed.

          1. David Greenwald

            Yes – noted. My main point was that the city didn’t get into this mess through small increments, but rather with big decisions that they didn’t fully understand the ramifications of.

  4. Howard P

    I agree with David, to an extent…

    Although I definitely support investigation of “Charter City” status, am not fully there yet… only 90% level in favor.  Don’t see that happening in next 5-10 years.

    So, in the near term, I’d support CC members voting for the maximum, statute controlled, increases in compensation starting July 1.  As David suggested.

    I support medical/dental/ life insurance coverage, and provisions for cash-out,  provided the rules are the same for other “City employees”!  And will change in the same manner, if other employees are asked for “take-backs”. Which (other benefits) David did not directly address.

    I support CC members being able to participate in PARS (no ‘vesting period’), or PERS (5 year vesting period)… SS is extremely likely not an option.

    I disagree with David’s characterization of the amount of time CC members spend on ‘City business’… by about a factor of 5-7.  Still, I support the compensation side.

    I strongly believe that the compensation, itemized, is posted and ‘transparent’.

    I find it ironic than David said yesterday, repeatedly, with Don Shor, criticized some posters, including me for wanting the info on compensation… “not interested in that” was the gist… David even used the term ‘I make it clear’ that he thought it was unimportant… next day, sure sounds like the compensation for CC members is EXTREMELY important.   Whatever.



  5. Howard P

    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, and others, please keep that thought in mind… although not highlighted, the after hours thing applies to many City staff who are in Mgt.  The bolded passages definitely apply to many, if not most, of City staff…

    The next time City employees (other than CC) are under scrutiny…

      1. Howard P

        Compared to?

        You remind me of someone who has a address of 1600, who doesn’t acknowledge agreement, but seeks to adamantly defend their view, if divergent… in any respect…

        1. Howard P

          I never said City employees were inadequately compensated… I wrote about the equity of take-backs at the same time you advocate increases for 5 ’employees’… and you said you were not interested in pursuing CC compensation.  Right.  Whatever.

          So much for social/civic justice…

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