Friday, March 1, 2013

City Council's Meager Pay | Casey's Last Word

It’s been 20 years since I last addressed the question of increased pay for San Antonio’s City Council members and the mayor.

The only thing that has changed is that inflation has increased the size of the insult.

I was pleased to see the Express-News take up the issue in a news story and an editorial this week.

Council members have lost $650 in annual buying power in those 20 years.

The mayor would be paid $2,300 more a year if his pay had kept up with inflation.

When council pay was set by the City Charter in the early 1950s, council members’ $20 a meeting, capped at $1,040 a year, was equal to nearly $9,000 annually in today’s money.

The mayor gets the same pay plus $3,000 a year.

He would be making about $39,000 if the charter had tied the wage to the Consumer Price Index.

That’s not exactly a princely wage, but at least it’s more than minimum wage.

Not only has the pay shrunk to a level that doesn’t cover a conscientious council member’s dry cleaning bills, but the size of the job has ballooned.

In 1950, San Antonio had just over 400,000 residents.

In 2010, the city had more than tripled to more than 1.3 million.

The size and complexity of the city and of its challenges have mushroomed.

What’s more, when the council-manager system was adopted in the early 1950s, all council members were elected at large.

This meant that the citizens saw no one of them as being personally responsible for fixing the potholes and the parks in their neighborhoods.

Constituent services were an optional part of the job.

Now with single-member districts, many citizens would never think of calling the Public Works Department when they can call the man or woman who needs their votes.

A councilman from the East Side, a lawyer, once announced that he would limit the number of calls he would return each day because he had to make a living.

His opponent in the next election made an issue of it and won.

Some people argue that we should pay council members more in order to get better council members.

I don’t buy it.

I’ve been watching City Council and Commissioner’s Court for nearly 40 years.

County commissioners get nearly $112,000 a year and the county judge $130,000.

The Commisssioners Court has fewer duties than the City Council and less power to shape the community.

But they do have the power to set their own salaries.

But I’ve never seen any evidence that the higher pay draws a higher class of politician.

This week reporter Josh Baugh wrote about South Side Councilman Rey Saldana, a young Stanford graduate who moved back to his old neighborhood – and now into his parents’ house.

Saldana has to hock his refurbished 1976 Corvette Stingray.

It’s the only way he can support his council habit while teaching part-time at Palo Alto College and the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Diego Bernal, a University of Michigan-educated lawyer can’t rack up the billable hours because of the demands of his council work.

Baugh described him walking into an Apple Store to find a Valentine’s gift for his girlfriend.

He couldn’t find anything he could afford.

Mayor Julian Castro 11 years ago gave up a $98,000 job with the law firm of Akin Gump because of potential conflicts and workload.

It’s almost politically incorrect to say it, but they and most other members of the council are serious politicians.

You can agree or not with their policies, but they are genuinely working to make the city better.

We don’t need to pay more to get better candidates.

We need to pay more because it is wrong not to.

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