Other Opinion: A lesson for councils everywhere
Public servants deserve fair pay that compares favorably to their peers. They deserve regular raises – not exorbitant hikes, but small increases that come only after considering the local economy and the financial success of the entity they serve.
Those in charge of their own raises especially should be mindful of two things: First, that chivalrous refusal of small increases today will only create low pay in the future; and second, that the public is watching – always watching.
In Rochester, Minn., City Council members last week took a step toward giving themselves and the mayor a substantial raise, starting next month. If approved, Mayor Kim Norton’s salary will increase from $37,657 this year to $78,840 next year. Council President Randy Staver’s salary will increase from $27,743 to $66,565. And if approved, the remainder of the council members will see their pay increase from $21,712 to $52,560. For council members, that’s a 142% increase.
Now, we don’t know much about the history of Rochester’s City Council. We know the city has a population of 115,000 and that it is relatively close to Minneapolis and St. Paul. Perhaps using peers as a barometer, the raises are necessary and just.
Comparing locally, members of the Grand Forks City Council earn $15,683 annually for their work. Our part-time mayor earns $29,720. City Commission members in Fargo – with a population of 122,000 – earn $25,000 per year.
We believe elected community leaders should receive adequate pay, but the pay should not be on par with a true full-time job.
And sometimes, the compensation is just too low, which sometimes comes as the result of years of elected officials refusing to raise their pay. On the surface, not taking a raise seems to be an honorable approach; in reality, it digs a deeper hole that will have consequences later, in the form of an eventual lack of strong candidates and unfair pay when compared to peer cities.
So raises should happen, and elected officials should remember that refusing increases is, in the end, a bad thing.
Back to Rochester: The Post Bulletin newspaper reported that a resident warned council members that their proposal could “be disastrous for your relationship with the Rochester community.”
Council members disagreed, the Post Bulletin reported, and pointed to the potential to draw a more diverse set of candidates in future elections.
That resident is right – those large raises will not sit well with residents. That is the people’s money and council members will always have those large raises hanging over their heads each time they gather to decide annual raises for thousands of city workers.
And, if those council members truly want to draw a more diverse set of candidates in future elections, go ahead and vote for a raise – but only allow it to take effect after the next round of elections.
This is an issue happening hours from the Red River Valley. But it’s a good lesson for public entities everywhere.