SD Mayor, Council Salary Hikes Run Political Risks; Commissioners Craft New Approach to Increases

It's been nine years since San Diego's mayor and City Council members got a pay raise

By Gene Cubbison
|  Sunday, Mar 4, 2012  |  Updated 11:58 AM PDT
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SD Mayor, Council Salary Hikes Run Political Risks

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It's been nine years since San Diego's mayor and City Council members got a pay raise.

They've rejected every one recommended on a biennial basis by an independent commission.

Will salary hikes ever happen without a political firestorm?

That commission -- established in the 1970s when Council members earned $5,000 annually, and the mayor $12,000 -- goes before the Council again Monday afternoon.

This time, they've got a new approach calculated to take the political grandstanding out of voting down recommended raises, and incentivize the notion of  rewarding future Council members.

Right now the mayor makes just over $100,000; Council members, $75,000.

The city's Salary Setting Commission, now operating with six out of seven authorized members, says San Diego's decision-makers are overdue for more money.

Up to $235,000 for Hizzoner.

And $175, 000 for the Council members.

The commission's argument?

The city needs to pay 21st-first century salaries for jobs that involve sophisticated stewardship.

"What we're not getting are candidates who have a lot of experience running or leading large organizations," says commission President Bob Ottilie.  :And the city of San Diego, the city itself, is the largest organization in the city."

Council members will vote on billions of dollars in general fund and construction spending during their tenures.

And expose themselves and the city to huge fines or worse if they mess up.

As chief executive officer of a comparably-sized corporation, Mayor Sanders might command a salary several times what he makes now.

"This is a much more demanding form of government that we have now, both for the mayor and the Council members," says Glenn Sparrow, professor emeritus of San Diego State University's School of Public Affairs and Urban Studies.  "It's not the old Council that waited for the city manager to come in and tell them what to do ...And if you look at city managers in San Diego County, you'll find they're all up over 150 (thousand dollars) and into the 200 thousands."

If pay scales were tied to reasonable formulas and/or automatic adjustments, avoiding the need for Council votes, salary-setting commissioners say increases would be more acceptable to taxpayers.

Especially, they recommend, if current office-holders were declared ineligible to receive the hikes themselves -- only their successors in office.

"They won't have a fear that their voters are going to think that they're doing this to benefit themselves," Ottilie explains. "Because that's what they fear.  And I think it puts them in a really difficult position."

Fun fact to know and tell about the salary structure dilemma?

More than 3,500 city employees, more than a third of the workforce, make more than Councilmembers -- including 33 lifeguards and 14 librarians.
 

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