Saturday, April 2, 2011

OUR ONLY ENDORSEMENT: Vote Yes on City Council pay

Readers support 2:1 and we owe it, not only to Council members, but to ourselves 

COLUMBIA, 4/3/11  (Beat Byte) --  The time is now for Columbia City Council members to get some compensation for the many hours they spend, in meetings, work sessions, continuing education, and so forth, all on behalf of voters who have no other voices at City Hall.

Last year and the year before, the Columbia Heart Beat ran polls that consistently showed roughly 60-70% of readers want Columbia City Council members paid.   The last poll, with over 550 votes, had 312 votes for Council pay; 211 votes against; and the rest undecided.    

Today, virtually every local pundit also supports Council pay, from Hank Waters and David Rosman to George Kennedy and Bob Roper. 

No wonder.  Columbia is the only city its size in the entire state, and the only city this observer can recall nationwide, that pays its elected officials nothing.  Nada.  Zippo.  Zilch.  What does that say about the will of the people?  In so many words, not paying the Council members we elect says the will of the people is worthless

The proposed stipend will doubtless offset costs -- gas for driving to meetings, meals on the fly -- but more importantly, it should start to turn the tide of power sharing, toward true checks and balances between non-elected staff and elected Council.

Paid city administrators -- managers and department heads -- do not represent voters and often oppose both the will of the electorate and the City Council's policy-setting mandate.  

From behind-doors deals pushing eminent domain downtown to the times this observer has witnessed senior city administrators drip with sarcasm when they address City Council members in public, the lack of consistent respect and dignity our unpaid elected officials receive is appalling. 

Without some compensation, Council members are amateurs, lacking in both moral and psychological authority.  So bad is this situation former Council members have complained that senior city administrators call them "the tourists," just passing through -- to be acknowledged or ignored. 

Another lament -- that good people don't run for Council because they get no pay; or that the only people who can afford to run are independently wealthy or retired -- just adds to the many reasons Council members need pay.

The proposed Council compensation package is laughably light:  $9,000 annually for the Mayor; $6,000 annually for each Council member, for a total of $45,000 -- about one third the cost of new city manager Mike Matthes; and 1/50th the cost of that other Mike -- Mike Anderson, the new Arkansas basketball coach.  

What's more, the ballot language is filled with political safeguards -- no increases during a member's term; doesn't start until 2014; etc.   Voters are virtually assured the only big thing Council members will receive is a long overdue title: professional.  

On April 5, vote YES on Proposition 1.   We owe it to the Columbia City Council, but more importantly, we owe it to ourselves.

No comments:

Post a Comment