An effort to block a 44 percent pay increase for Spokane City Council members is rushing to gather enough signatures before a Monday deadline, but organizers acknowledge they may fall short of their goal.
Kelly Lotze, who formed the group opposing the pay raises with conservative activist Scott Kusel, said his group has collected about 2,000 signatures – far short of the 5,107 needed to force voter approval of the pay increase.
“We’ve had a lot of supporters come out in the last couple of days,” Lotze said, noting that signature sheets still are being circulated and could contain many more signatures. “For every 10, maybe 20, people I’ve talked to, I get one person that says, ‘Nope.’ ”
Lotze noted that the odds of collecting enough signatures may be long, saying previous signature-gathering efforts have collected about 4,000 signatures in six months. According to city rules, Lotze had 30 days from when the council accepted the report recommending the pay raise, which occurred March 28, to collect enough signatures for the referendum to move forward.
The decision to give council members the pay increase was made by the city’s Salary Review Commission, which sets the salaries of all elected officials at the city. According to notes from commission members’ discussions, the decision to increase council member pay to $45,100 from $31,200 was contentious and only decided on the sixth vote.
Council members have defended the pay increase, while noting that they were not the ones who made the decision to raise their salaries.
Councilman Breean Beggs said the system to set the salaries is working as intended, and that the pay increase was fair. He expected the higher pay would “increase the pool of qualified people,” and bring more diversity to the council in terms of race, gender, ideas and perspectives.
“The council members’ most important job is to make quality decisions for the residents of the city,” he said. “We make decisions that affect tens and sometimes hundreds of millions of dollars. You want people qualified to make that decision.”
Beggs said he has received very few emails on the matter, most taking issue with the legislation the council has passed, but he didn’t feel the discussion of pay had become too political.
“I think there’s a handful of people who have access to social media and are trying to politicize it, but they haven’t yet,” Beggs said, noting that Lotze ran the 2012 state Senate campaign for Nancy McLaughlin, who sponsored the original ordinance putting council pay under the purview of the salary commission. “There is a small group of people who don’t so much think the council should be paid less, they just don’t agree with what the council is doing.”
Lotze denied political motivations, but acknowledged that his effort faced an uphill battle.
“I would really like to, but we didn’t have the paper petition until a week after” the council accepted the report, he said about collecting enough signatures. “It’s a massive undertaking.”
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