Tuesday, April 21, 2009

An Issue They're Reluctant to Raise

Here's a question for you. What does President Obama have that the mayor of Santa Barbara and members of the city council don't have?

Young children. In fact, the only person I'm aware of in recent memory who served on the city council while raising a family was Phil Bugay. And he resigned in 1996 (after serving less than a year) when he evidently figured out that being a council member really didn't pay enough to permit one to raise a family in this town.

Anyone who is unhappy with the performance of the mayor and council ought to remember this; you get what you pay for. And here in Santa Barbara, we have a long and, I dare say, proud tradition of not paying our elected city officials very well.

The mayor's annual salary is currently $45,639.84. City council members get $36,512.06. While the News-Press has gone so far as to print the salary of the administrative assistant at the Parks Department, it has shown no inclination to publicize the salaries of the mayor and council. I can only conclude that even Travis Armstrong is embarrassed to tell you how little they make.

As a result of the paltry pay, candidates for mayor and council tend to come from a small pool: empty nesters (Marty Blum, Iya Falcone); married without children (Helene Schneider, Grant House); single males (Das Williams, Dale Francisco).

The pool of announced candidates for the upcoming election for both mayor and council seems to guarantee that those present categories will remain well-represented, with one notable new addition; the presumptive silly. That slot on your ballot will be occupied by Justin Michael.

We expect our mayor and council to provide leadership and vision on a lot of varied issues and we expect them to do it at a bargain-basement price. Is that really fair? I would argue it isn't fair. It isn't fair to the mayor. It isn't fair to the council. And last, but not least, it isn't fair to us, the people who live here.

Of course for the mayor or council to advocate, much less actually vote, to raise their own pay has long been thought to be the quickest and easiest path to political suicide around here.

In fact, the matter of their own salaries is out of the hands of the mayor and council. Their salaries are set according to a formula contained in the city charter. Council members make 80% of the annual Area Median Income. The mayor's salary is equal to 100% of the annual Area Median Income. The term "Area Median Income" refers to the annual Area Median Income for a one-person household within Santa Barbara County.

And that "Area Median Income" figure is based on the entire county, not just the City of Santa Barbara. So despite the fact that the cost of living in south county is historically higher than what it costs to live in north county, some dude washing dishes at the Far Western restaurant in Guadalupe, is keeping the salaries of the mayor and council here in Santa Barbara artificially low.

I don't know whether or not the mayor and council are happy about that, but I do know this, I haven't heard anybody complain. Perhaps it's a case of people who don't need the money being quite content not to have to run in the larger field of candidates that would undoubtedly turn out if holding the office actually paid decently.

Or maybe it's a case of not wanting to fall on that hara-kiri knife.

Being stingy with what we pay elected officials is penny-wise and pound-foolish in my book. I say raise the salaries and let's see what happens. Who knows, we might even be able to get Phil Bugay to throw his hat back in the ring.
© 2009 by Craig Smith and www.craigsmithsblog.com