Mountain View Voice

Opinion - June 20, 2014

Pay raise a hot potato for council

Last week, the City Council agreed to throw the controversial question of a pay raise to the voters, a move that caps a discussion started in November about whether a higher wage would attract "working" residents to run for council.

Ultimately, the move for something closer to a living wage failed, leaving a watered-down raise from $600 to $1,000 a month up to voters, with a built-in cost of living allowance, based either on the consumer price index or city employee cost of living adjustments. If council members spend an average of 30 hours a week on city business, as four members told the Voice they do, they will earn $8.33 an hour, which will be less than the state's minimum wage when it is raised from $8 to $9 on July 1.

The pay raise measure will appear on the November ballot, along with a final list of people running for three open council seats. A ballot measure passed in 1984 prevents the council from simply taking a vote on a pay raise, forcing members to send such a proposal to the voters.

The 1984 vote also set the council's salary at $500 a month, which in today's dollars would be worth $1,137. This led member Mike Kasperzak to say $1,000 a month is simply restoring what the voters already approved. In his opinion, the council has gotten an annual decrease in pay, as the buying power of their monthly $600 is eaten away by inflation.

The council has also heard from some residents who believe that serving on a public body is a privilege and should not be more or less attractive based on compensation. Others were opposed to the near doubling of council pay, from $7,200 a year at $600 a month to $12,000 a year if the voters approve $1,000 a month.

Few, if any, members of the current council could be said to rely on the council salary. Mayor Chris Clark is a business executive, John McAllister and Mike Kasperzak own businesses, John Inks and Jac Siegel are retired business executives and Bryant and Margaret Abe-Koga are supported by their spouses. In April Ronit Bryant said she "lost a lot of money" by giving up work as a technical writer to serve on the council.

It is not likely that $1,000 a month will make any difference in the make-up of the council in the years ahead. A stipend of $1,000 is more than pocket change, but compared to the income of the current council members and their families, it would not be a significant percentage.

Except for Sunnyvale, which pays council members almost $2,000 a month, other cities of similar size in the area pay council members less than $1,000-a-month. Palo Alto and Campbell currently pay about the same as Mountain View's $600 a month, although Palo Alto is considering its own raise to $1,000 a month.

Los Altos, Morgan Hill, Saratoga, Los Gatos and Los Altos Hills pay $300 a month or less. In addition to Sunnyvale, those paying slightly more are Cupertino, Santa Clara, Milpitas and Gilroy. San Jose pays $10,583 a month, reflecting its status as the largest city in the Bay Area.

Another way to view compensation is to consider the council as a low-paid board of directors who set policy and oversee an executive branch made up of highly-paid professionals. The city manager, who is paid $250,000 a year, and his top staff, many of whom earn well over $100,000 a year, are at the top of a team of more than 600 employees, and oversee a general fund budget of nearly $100 million, which must be approved every year by the citizen-city council.

When considering who to elect and how much to pay the citizens who are responsible to the voters for keeping the city running on an even keel, it might be appropriate to consider candidates from all walks of life, not just those who have a successful record in business or technology. And if a higher salary will help attract such candidates, it probably will be worth it.

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