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December 16, 2005

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Publication Date: Friday, December 16, 2005

Council members may ask for raise Council members may ask for raise (December 16, 2005)

Current pay of $500 a month deemed 'not very attractive'

By Jon Wiener

City council members may soon be asking the public to grant them the first raise for the position in more than two decades.

The three-person council procedures committee met last week to discuss the possibility of putting a referendum before Mountain View voters, asking them to vote on increasing the $500-per-month salary for council members.

"$6,000 a year for the amount of time you put in is not very attractive," said council member Greg Perry, chair of the procedures committee.

Council members have made the same amount since 1984, with the exception of a state-mandated bonus tied to city population in the late 1990s. (It lasted only until the release of the 2000 census results.) The city's mayor earns $625 a month. Over that same time period, the consumer price index (CPI) has doubled.

"It has become more and more volunteer the bigger the council has got and the more outside agencies are involved," said council member Mike Kasperzak, who first proposed that the committee take up the issue.

Perry, Kasperzak and third committee member Mayor Matt Neely did not propose any specific salary figures, though they did mention that a salary of $1,500 a month, tied to future increases in the CPI, would be appropriate. The committee asked staff to compare the CPI and council member salaries to the salaries of certain city employees over the last two decades.

Any pay increase would likely not apply to current council members. Assistant city attorney Shelley Emerson told the committee that state law prevents council members from voting on an item that they can reasonably expect to benefit from financially. Perry recommended that the potential referendum clearly exclude current council members in order to gain public trust.

Kasperzak estimated he spends 10 to 20 hours a week fulfilling his council duties. Other council members say the amount of time can be significantly greater. Because of the commitment and the pay, the council seems to attract mainly self-employed residents or retirees. Neely, an assistant principal at Mountain View High School, and Tom Means, an economics professor at San Jose State University, are the only two council members who work full-time and are not self-employed.

"You have to be a working person to do this, and the job's not really structured for people who work. It's totally tilted towards wealthy folks," said Neely. Neely added that he feared this could create a lack of representation for the working class communities in Mountain View.

State Assembly member Sally Lieber, who served on the council from 1998 to 2002, last week refused to take a pay raise that an independent commission had recommended for state legislators, saying she did not think it was appropriate to take a raise when the state was cutting funding for K-14 education. She said the same reasoning applies to Mountain View.

Lieber added that keeping the pay low keeps the council non-partisan. Perry said the same thing during Monday's meeting, warning that a council seat that pays well enough to live off of could draw political parties into the process as a way to reward volunteers.

"I want it to be a place where people want to run because they're genuinely interested in the garbage contract," said Perry.


E-mail Jon Wiener at [email protected]

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