Friday, February 27, 2015

Pay council members a decent salary | Last Word

So it looks like we San Antonians are going to decide whether we will give our mayor and City Council members a raise - from the weekly insult of $20 they now get.

The council members for the nation’s seventh largest city would make almost as much as the mayor’s secretaries.

The mayor would make almost as much as an account executive at the city’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.

The proposed council pay is pegged to the median income of all San Antonio workers, or $45,755.

The mayor, who now gets $3,000 a year more than council members, would get $20,000 more.

We ought to do it, but not because we think it will bring us a higher caliber of council member.

It won’t.

For one thing, we already have a far more qualified council than the $1,040 annual pay suggests.

Seven of the 11 members have masters degrees.

The colleges they have attended include Yale and Stanford.

One is a retired colonel who worked directly for General Norman Schwarzkopf during Desert Storm.

One is a former AT&T executive and another the long-time head of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.

If they are in it for the money, people with these credentials would be no more attracted by $46K a year, than by $1,040.

A good comparison sits just a few hundred yards from City Hall at the county courthouse.

County commissioners are paid $114,000 a year and the county judge $132,000.

Yet nobody who has followed San Antonio politics for any length of time would suggest that the Commissioner’s Court has attracted a higher class of public servant than City Council.

And we shouldn’t pay city council more because we think it will cut down on corruption.

A salary of $46,000 hardly puts a politician beyond temptation’s reach.

It still means that if they’re in it for the money, they will find ways of cashing in off the books.

No, we should pay our mayor and council members a living wage for one simple reason.

It is the right thing to do.

When voters approved the city charter in the early 1950s that set council pay at $20 a week, San Antonio had a population of 408,000.

The charter was part of a national reform movement aimed at fighting machine corruption by taking politics out of government.

Council would be like a corporate board overseeing the professional management team.

And that’s pretty much the way it worked.

But San Antonio is now more than three times as large at more than 1.4 million.

It is also more politically complex.

Under the original charter, council members were all elected at-large.

That meant that with few exceptions black and Hispanic members were hand-picked and backed by the business elite.

In 1977, under pressure from the Justice Department, we started electing council members by district.

For the first time in 25 years, Hispanic and black communities were directly electing their own representatives.

What’s more, because we have our own individual representatives, we citizens are much more likely to call them regarding our issues and problems.

We expect them to come to our neighborhood association meetings, and to be up on a wide range of city issues.

As a result, what had been a part-time job is now more than full-time.

Franklin Pierce, a councilman in the early 1990s, reasonably said his need to make a living for his family required him to limit his time on council work.

He would only return a certain number of calls a day.

He was a one-term councilman.

We want our council representatives to work hard for us.

As a matter of justice, we should pay them for that work.

It’s part of being mature citizens of a mature city.

I have a correction to make on last week’s Last Word.

I said the Legislature passed a law allowing conscientious objections to child vaccination in 2007.

It was actually in 2003, which means it was not tied, as I suggested, to then-Governor Rick Perry’s controversy over requiring middle school girls to be vaccinated against HPV.

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