Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Municipal Money and Salaries

The topic of the day is the proposed raises for the Indianapolis-Marion County City County Council and the Indianapolis Mayor. The proposal, sponsored by outgoing councilor Mary Moriarty Adams, would boost the pay of councilors to about $16,000 and the mayor to about $120,000. The proposal has a short life span if it isn't acted on quickly, as the council will only have one more full meeting this calendar year. And any measure that doesn't make it out of the full council by the end of the year dies as the term of this council ends on January 1, 2016. According to IndyPolitics, outgoing Mayor Greg Ballard declined to say if he supported it or not, saying he hasn't seen the specifics of the proposal.

Several news reports have mentioned that councils and/or mayors in other Indiana cities, or cities in neighboring states, have much higher salaries. In fact, Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard and the Carmel City-Council voted raises for most city employees themselves and Brainard earlier this year. Carmel's elected officials voted on those raises as part of the city's budget, after the 2015 Republican primary in May, which is the de facto election in Carmel and most of Hamilton County.

Social media commentary on local news' Facebook pages have been almost universally negative on this action.

So what do I think?

I think the salaries for mayors and councils across the state have a huge pay gap. And I honestly don't see why. I wonder if one party control in some of these cities (particularly Carmel, Westfield, and Gary) might make it easier to slip these pay increases in. Many of these communities have been one party control for decades, but it is only within the last 10 years that Democrats have really had the same kind of success that they've long had in Gary, or Republicans have had in Carmel.

I think proposing this after an election, where this wasn't an issue that was talked about publicly, reeks of backroom deals. I suspect that this has been talked about in caucuses and informal meetings for quite some time.

I think putting this before a lame duck council, with several members not returning, and a lame duck mayor, is attempting to circumvent political backlash, hoping that people won't remember or won't care in four years.

I honestly don't have a problem with council raises. A good councilor does a lot of work. Some treat it as a full time or nearly full time job in addition to their actual full time job and other responsibilities. The ones doing the hard work, I have much less of a problem giving it to them. The do-nothings, I have more of an issue with.

As for the Mayor, I think the perks more than make up for whatever salary he doesn't get.

Ideally, I'd like to completely revamp our legislative body. I think we're a big city and we should have a big-boy, full time council. Cut it down to 11 or 13 members, give them a decent salary, make it their full time job. Put restrictions on other work they can do so conflicts of interest don't arise.  Microsoft's Board of Directors is only 10 people so there's no reason we need 25 cooks in the kitchen.

Failing that, I really think the Indiana state legislature and look at the disparity in pay between city and county councils and Mayors of cities and towns and take the politics out of it. Establish a salary for elected officials based on the type of city (class 1, etc...) or county, set the salary, index it to inflation. I really can't think of a good reason the Mayor of Gary or Westfield should be paid more than the Mayor of Indianapolis. I'd like similar rules to be established for the county wide offices, but many of those offices might be supported by specific fees they charge and the fees collected in a more populated county will obviously be more than in a more rural county.

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