Council stipend likely to be put on April ballot

Tuesday, December 7, 2010 | 6:51 p.m. CST; updated 9:28 p.m. CST, Tuesday, December 7, 2010

COLUMBIA — In the past, the idea of stipends for City Council members has been a contentious one. It was surprising, then, that Council members declined to comment after a presentation on the matter during Monday's pre-council meeting.

But Fourth Ward Councilman Daryl Dudley said the silence had a simple explanation.

"We just got busy with some other things, and we forgot about it until the meeting was over," Dudley said.

Even so, it appears the council is poised to put a proposal to amend the city charter and allow stipends on the April 5 ballot.

Four times in Columbia's past, a stipend for City Council members and the mayor has been put to the voters, and four times it has failed. The last of these attempts was in 1992 and, since then, the idea has lain dormant.

A group of citizens that includes several former mayors and other political leaders  brought the issue back to the council's attention by sending a letter in late November supporting the stipend. They followed up with an appearance at Monday night's pre-council meeting.

Both the letter and the presentation emphasized the size and complexity of the city's government and the increasing amount of time council members must devote. The proposal recommended a stipend of $6,000 for council members and $9,000 for the mayor. The proposal would not take effect until 2014, after the terms of all current council members are over.

Though the council did not discuss the issue Monday, several members of the City Council confirmed it would come before the council in regular session and stands a good chance of being added to the April ballot.

"That'll be coming in front of the council very, very soon," First Ward Councilman Paul Sturtz said. "It will be something that we will most likely vote to put in front of the voters."  

Sturtz also said that he supports stipends for council members, while Dudley firmly said he does not.

"I took this as a volunteer job, and I knew there was no pay when I ran for election last spring," Dudley said. "I would rather use that money to give more money to our employees or to give a raise to a police officer or fireman."

Despite differing opinions on the stipends themselves, most of the council – including Dudley, Sturtz, Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser and Second Ward Councilman Jason Thornhill – said the council almost certainly would vote to put the proposal on the April ballot for the voters to decide.

"What they asked of us is to honor the process," Thornhill said. "They did a good job writing this, and it's our job now to put it on the ballot."

The next City Council meeting will be at 7 p.m. Dec. 20.

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