I fully expected substantial blow back, when that happens I particularly those of you who have engaged in civil conversation or expressed support, even if reluctantly or privately. I also appreciate the fact that the more experienced elected officials have not been at each others’ throats on this. Particularly appreciated is the support of Mayor Norton who struggled with this decision in a past office.
I have regular public time on the 1st & 3rd Thursdays of the month 9 AM – 10:30 AM at Drift Dough (Coffee with Local Leaders) and additionally I will make myself available at Fiddlehead Coffee that same day at 4 PM (update: I learned they are still on Holiday hours and will be open only until 5 so I guess that is how long I will be there), so if you want to talk with me, ask questions, or just tell me to my face that you don’t support this please do so on January 2nd. I owe it to all of you to explain myself and give you an opportunity to speak.
When you cast an unpopular vote, the easiest thing to do is to run, hide and hope people forget. I have no interest in playing that game. Sometimes unpopular changes need to be done in the interest of the community and I believe that a shift to a more full time based salary for elected officials in the City is one of them. This position is a full time commitment and council members have had access to full time benefits for as long as I have known. In addition to the compensation changes I expect to see elected official space at city hall in the near future. I also expect to see some additional staff support for elected officials in the future.
The most frequent talking point by those opposed is that this represents a doubling of a salary, this is true. We are going from a full time position paid with a part time salary to one paid with a salary allowing full time commitment. All council members have the option to decline any and all compensation and full time benefits. I hope they do not. I personally decline healthcare benefits, but appreciate that they have always been available for those who might need them.
In a nutshell this is what the change actually means for the community; In 2020 compensation for council members would receive a salary in the range of $50k per year for the full time obligation of the city council. The 2020 city property tax rate will still go down slightly from 2019, and almost the entirety of the change is done within the 2020 approved budget. Normally we would start a year with a contingency of $1 million. After all the dust settles we will be starting 2020 with a contingency of about $980 thousand. 2019 will close with more than $500k left in the contingency. The new pay scale for elected city officials is pretty similar to that of Olmsted County. I know how hard some of the commissioners work, and have never seen their level of compensation as a concern. I particularly appreciate how hard Sheila Kiskaden, Gregg Wright, and Mark Thein work as civil servants, and I don’t always agree politically with all of them. For comparison the Olmsted County budget is $263 million while the city budget is $587 million.
For most of my 11+ years as an elected official the role has been full time plus some. In addition to the long hours, the hours are irregular and often the communication with constituents are on topics that are urgent to them. There are no requirements that any elected official put in a certain number of hours, Contrary to some expressed opinions there is no way for us to codify what an elected official must do, but we can create a set of guidelines so that prospective candidates know what reasonable expectations are.
I would expect an official to regularly attend official public meetings, prepared (having read and researched the 500+ pages of material in advance), attend boards & commissions, meet regularly with professional staff and the public, invest in education and innovation, advocate for positive change, and above all else be responsive to constituents. Many of the people who are best qualified to do this position have additional careers that they would be likely to continue to do some work to maintain their skills. Ultimately this is at the discretion of individual council members to decide. For me personally, I have given up attempting to teach classes and now work less than 100 hours a month on my personal business. The council just takes up that much time.
I don’t believe that the level of compensation is such that we will be creating “career politicians” for a couple of reasons. Despite the focus on “doubling” compensation that actual number is set at 20% below what a median 1 person household earns in the area. Further, the pay range is similar to what County Commissioners earn and there are seldom people beating down the doors for those positions. Many of the County elections are uncontested.
One of the responsibilities of an elected board with budgetary authority is to set the compensation of that board. At one point we attempted to delegate that to a salary commission, but that step was vetoed by Mayor Brede. Future revisions could be reviewed by a committee of HR professionals. That said I suspect that they might arrive at higher figures based on the responsibilities of the role relative to community pay standards.
The discussion to bring this forward involved myself as well as Council Member Campion and President Staver. For those of you who don’t follow politics closely; the 3 of us often disagree on issues. What we did agree on was that our positions require a full time effort and unless you have a very agreeable employer or a source of independent wealth it is difficult to be successful in this role. For me personally this was less about recruiting people and more about ensuring elected officials can devote the time that is necessary in this position.
Much has been made about the transparency of the process. No notice for a change is required, but we all respected that the public needed to know about this in advance. We took the unusual step of actually announcing that this would be coming up at a future meeting at the end of another meeting. This drew much more attention to the discussion that if we had done this as a part of a different item. This also allowed for a longer period of input that we would normally see from a council initiate action. Typically the public would hear about this 2 business days in advance, by noticing this at the end of the previous meeting this was extended to 2 weeks. No public hearing is required for a topic like this, but we also wanted to coordinate this with with a public hearing so people could speak. Because this was done in conjunction with the 2020 budget adoption hearing that opportunity was available.
Some have suggested that previous councils should set salaries for future councils, however no council has the ability to control a future council. While we did create an index that will hopefully prevent the council from falling behind only a sitting council has budgetary authority. Further we don’t take office at the same time.
Yes, I get it this is unpopular, paying elected officials anything will always be unpopular because we are civil servants. I think this should have happened many years ago. I wish previous councils didn’t leave us in this position. I do not wish to leave future councils in this position. My request would be hold us to a standard. The most frequent complaint I get is that if I or another council member is not responsive. So if we are not earning our keep; find someone who will.
Rochester City Council