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Thursday, October 29, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

City Council salary: Pay controversy manufactured, beside the point

Ben Stuckart ,Jack Geraghty

Your eyebrows should rise when a couple of former elected officials start calling for an election to determine whether the City Council should do its job for at least 40 hours per week.

Two former council members are angry about a nonpartisan, citizen-volunteer commission that held open meetings, took public testimony and studied compensation levels of other elected officials. The Salary Review Commission determined, based on the current council member scope of work, that the current salary is not sufficient to attract and retain citizens committed to the job.

Ironically, both of them, angry with the decision, left the council without seeking re-election to pursue financial opportunities outside of public office.

This conversation is not about whether serving on the City Council is a part-time or full-time position. We wish it was. Unfortunately, this is once again about politics.

Less than one year ago, Mike Allen shared a different opinion of the Salary Review Commission at a City Council meeting: “The times we have used the Salary Review Commission they have been very thoughtful and diligent in their work …we are trying to depoliticize this to start with.”

What has changed other than an election and Mr. Allen’s seat on the council dais?

The Salary Review Commission recommended that council member compensation change from $31,200 to $45,100 annually. Each member serves on an average of 10 boards. Add weekly legislative meetings, responding to citizen concerns, developing budgets, attending neighborhood meetings, working with stakeholders and attending numerous community events on behalf of the city, and you will find your council members working more than full-time hours. These are the basic community expectations of a council member.

Spokane is a great place to live, but we have issues that require us to tackle them collectively through government. If the council could tackle and fix community issues with 20-hour workweeks, it would. You would see more of your friends and neighbors jumping to run for City Council. But tackling issues of a growing midsize city is not a side job. It’s not a hobby.

We need the best of the best in our community to run for office – regardless of independent wealth, profession or ability to flex a schedule. Our community wants leaders who are more concerned about the number of citizen lives improved than the number of hours they clocked in this week.

The Salary Review Commission did not determine whether the council is a full-time or part-time job. It simply affirmed the level of commitment expected of the Spokane City Council by the community.

Thanks to the Salary Review Commission’s decision, we will see a new slate of citizens willing to commit whatever time it takes to improve their city. A new opportunity for citizens to seek public office is not a reason to be angry. If anything, we should be celebrating.

Ben Stuckart is Spokane City Council president. Jack Geraghty is a former mayor of Spokane.

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