"The local government we have is really flawed," said council member Ronit Bryant. Council members said they agreed with her comments. Because of low pay, a position on the council is largely limited to those who are retired, supported by a spouse or independently wealthy.
"A group visiting us from Italy a few years ago asked how much we were paid and I told them — they were shocked," Bryant said. "They said, 'How do you get anyone who doesn't either have money or is retired to run for City Council?' I said that's a very good question — my husband supports me."
After failing in 2006, council members said Tuesday that they are interested in asking voters again for a raise, voting 6-1, with Mayor John Inks opposed, to have the council's procedures committee study the possibility. Council members can't approve a raise themselves, as they are bound by a city law that says "The City Council has no power to increase its salary by ordinance, resolution or motion."
Council member Jac Siegel said that given the political climate and people's views of politicians, "if we did anything it should be small increase with an inflationary increase. Other than than that, we're not going to be able to pass anything."
Several other members said a small increase in pay of only $100 to $200 would not be worth the trouble.
"It's less about the money and more about being able to attract a diverse array of candidates," said Vice Mayor Chris Clark, who joked that his salary on council pays his monthly dry cleaning bill, with a "little left over."
"The only reason I'm able to do this is because I have an extremely flexible employer," said Clark, an executive at Mountain View-based Green Dot and the only regularly employed member of the council.
Voters narrowly rejected the council's request for a pay raise from $500 to $1,500 in 2006, which would have taken effect in 2009. Council member Mike Kasperzak, who pushed for the raise in 2006, noted that "there was no campaign" to get voters to support it. It failed by a 4-percent margin.
In 2006, council members noted that the pay raise wasn't necessarily for them, as it would have been applied in 2009. Some members said Tuesday that such a strategy would be needed again.
Placing a measure on next year's November general election ballot would cost $67,000.
A survey of City Council salaries in nearby cities found that the cities of Palo Alto and Campbell pay council members similarly to Mountain View. Paying half of Mountain View's salary or less are Los Altos, Morgan Hill, Saratoga, Los Gatos and Los Altos Hills.
Paying council members more per month are Cupertino ($730), Sunnyvale ($1,982), Santa Clara ($812), Milpitas ($861), Gilroy ($729) and San Jose ($10,583).
Most also pay mayors a bonus — Mountain View pays $700 a month to its mayor — along with medical and dental benefits for all members, as does Mountain View.
Bryant said City Council pay is a regional issue, and may require a regional discussion.
"The conversation we should have is, 'Where are we going?'" Bryant said. "'What is the future of local government?' If you want any resident of Mountain View to give 30 hours a week to the public, how are you going to be compensating him?"