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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Full-time City Council plan may see advisory vote

Spokane voters could be asked this fall whether the state’s second-largest city is ready for a full-time City Council.

With the city charter providing only an implied part-time status, and annual pay set to bump 4 percent in January, Councilmen Mike Allen and Steve Salvatori are proposing two advisory measures for the November ballot that they hope will promote a robust community debate over what residents expect from their elected municipal leaders.

“I can see pros and cons to both,” Allen said, “but the point is we should be getting direction from voters and asking what they expect from their council members … not letting it just creep up without a discussion about it.”

The proposal seeks council approval to put two advisory questions on the November ballot. One asks whether the position of City Council president should be considered a full-time post and compensated as such, while the other asks the same about the six City Council positions.

The city charter prohibits the mayor from holding any other job but contains no similar limitation for council members, which has been viewed as an implied directive that they are to be considered part-time positions.

Allen and Salvatori, however, say city spending on the council has grown dramatically in the past six or seven years.

Since 2008, council salaries have swelled from $18,000 a year to $31,200 annually beginning next year. At the same time, the council president’s salary has climbed from $40,000 to $57,200. Council salaries are set by an independent five-member panel that meets every other year and, among other things, takes into account the demands of the job when deciding where to set salaries.

Additionally, the council had just one assistant for all seven members in 2008 but each council member now is provided with their own full-time assistant. Salvatori declined this year and contributed the $50,000 allocated for his assistant to various community groups.

Several council members treat the position as their primary job and Salvatori acknowledges that the position can be demanding at times.

“The decision to have a full-time council should be a deliberate one,” said Salvatori, who doubts he would be able to continue serving if the position was full time. “It’s sliding that direction now, and I think it’s better to have a community discussion about whether this is what we want rather than let it just keep morphing into that.”

County commissioners statewide are considered full-time positions, but Seattle has Washington’s only official full-time City Council, whose members are paid nearly $120,000 per year.

Whether the advisory questions make it to the ballot remains to be seen.

Council President Ben Stuckart had no comment Tuesday, saying he hadn’t seen the proposal and wants to review it first.

The request was filed Tuesday afternoon and likely will be considered by the council next month.