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Tuesday, October 15, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

City Council salary: The job is part-time; let the voters decide

Steve Salvatori ,Mike Allen

We’ve both served on the City Council, and we believe it has been and should be a part-time job. We also believe the voters should decide.

Most council members have jobs or other outside business interests. We did, and looking back over the last few years, so did Jon Snyder, Steve Corker, Bob Apple and Al French. Currently, Mike Fagan, Candace Mumm and Karen Stratton do.

In 2014, concerned about mission creep, we tried to bring forward a citizen advisory vote to ensure you had a voice in our governance model, but Council President Ben Stuckart and council members Snyder, Mumm and Amber Waldref tabled the issue indefinitely.

If they had allowed a vote, perhaps it wouldn’t be so shocking to learn that City Council salaries will jump 44 percent next year. Did you know City Council is the fastest-growing expense in the city since 2008, the year council salaries jumped from $18,000 to $30,000? That same year, the council created six new part-time administrative assistant positions, one for each council member. In 2014, council made those six positions full time.

In 2015, salaries were increased by 4 percent to $31,200, followed by the latest increase of another 44 percent to $45,100. Council members have been expanding their role without a vote of the people to support such a change in governance.

Council salaries are set by the Salary Review Commission. They interviewed five citizens (two who work for current council members and three who donated to their campaigns) and five council members, who explained they work 40 to 60 hours a week at their council jobs. Their 2016 testimony was contrary to public statements from two years earlier, when Councilman Snyder said, “I am not looking for a full-time salary,” or when Councilwoman Candace Mumm volunteered, “I don’t have any interest in making this a full-time job. We ran to be part-time.”

The City Charter specifies that the mayor can hold no other employment, but gives no such guidance for council members.

Spokane’s population is only 3 percent larger than it was in 2008. Average per capita income has declined. The number of neighborhood councils, boards and committees haven’t grown since that time. Technology and social media have made it easier to communicate with constituents.

Council members don’t have an easy job, but one that requires setting priorities and establishing teamwork between council members who share a district.

Most cities have part-time councils, and service is considered a civic duty. We believe citizens want their council members to have real jobs, because it is one thing to pass legislation, but quite another to have to comply with it.

Supporters of the move to full time will point to the Salary Review Commission and that the citizens voted to allow that body to adjust salaries. True, but they were not appointed to decide our governance model.

Put the full-time/part-time council member question to the ballot and let the voters decide. Then, adjust salaries accordingly.

Steve Salvatori and Mike Allen are former members of Spokane City Council.

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