Friday, August 10, 2007

Citizen city councils deserve proper pay for their work


Those bucolic Norman Rockwell illustrations of small-town America on Saturday Evening Post covers are not to be found in modernday reality. The days of rustic, down-home life is nostalgia for grandparents.

This is especially true of today's municipal government, even in the relatively small communities of the Wood River Valley, where citizen mayors and city councils face long, daunting agendas involving complex technical, legal and social problems often with adversarial pressures that become hostile and unfriendly, and demands from taxpayers for more services.

Men and women brave enough and patient enough to serve in these sometimes thankless roles therefore deserve proper pay, not merely token pin money.

If voters want to continue attracting mainstream citizen officials who relate to the community's needs, rather than "country club" candidates wealthy enough not to hold jobs in addition to elected posts, then adequate compensation is a must.

Except for the city of Bellevue, whose mayor will continue being paid $400 per month and where council members have reduced their $200 monthly salaries to $100 because of a budget shortfall, other valley cities have approved or are contemplating increases for elected officials.

Under a proposal under review in Ketchum, the mayor's salary would be doubled from $18,000 per year to $36,000 and council members' would jump from $15,000 per year to $20,000 each.

In Sun Valley, the mayor's pay will increase from $18,000 to $21,000 annually. Council member salaries will remain the same, $12,000.

Hailey, the valley's largest city, will increase the mayor's pay from $18,500 to $19,080 and council members' from $6,180 per year to $9,600.

Furthermore, these elected officials are managing multi-million dollar budgets and making decisions that affect the character and lifestyle of their communities.

Although not described as full-time jobs, their official duties never seem to end. Taxpayers are not shy about calling mayors and council members at home at night, or buttonholing them at social events with gripes about city services or special requests.

They're also vilified publicly when municipal services don't function properly, even if breakdowns are a world distant from the councils' authority.

Perhaps the biggest changes facing city government these days are rules and regulations and accountability imposed by the federal government on virtually every aspect of municipal governance, plus the inevitable phalanx of well-paid, professional and legal experts that appear to argue cases for their clients.

These demands require hours and hours of homework by council members, reading thick reports and studies.

In the end, what might seem to be generous salaries ultimately are reduced to a per-hour pay of an entry-level city hall clerk.




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