COLUMBIA — Residents serving on the City Council have been unpaid since the city’s charter was first written, and stipend activists are seeking to change that.
On April 5 in the general municipal election, residents will be able to vote on Proposition 1, an amendment to the city charter that would provide an annual stipend to City Council members.
The ballot issue marks the fifth time since 1978 that city voters have been asked to approve some level of pay for council service.
Proposition 1 has three main components:
- Council members would be paid a $6,000 stipend each year, and the mayor would receive $9,000 per year.
- The City Council would not have the power to increase the stipends, but it would increase based on percentage raises given to city employees for the prior three years.
- The charter amendment would not be effective until 2014, so as to ensure no current council member would benefit, unless re-elected.
Kee Groshong, former MU administrator, and Bob Roper, a retired bank executive, are the co-chairs of the “Yes On Proposition 1 Committee.” Other proponents of the proposition include former mayors Darwin Hindman and Mary Anne McCollum.
“There are about a dozen reasons why our City Council members should be paid,” Groshong said.
The city’s home rule charter was first adopted in 1949 when the population was 30,000. Since then, the city’s population has grown to more than 100,000, and “a lot has changed since then,” he said.
Hindman, who was mayor from 1995 to 2009, said the population growth has made the city more complex and diverse.
“The mayor’s job cannot be done in the office alone; it requires you to make appearances and travel frequently,” Hindman said.
Part of the proposed stipend would help offset the cost of traveling, Groshong and Hindman said.
Growing alongside population is Columbia’s budget, rising to more than $350 million per fiscal year with an operating budget of close to $76 million per fiscal year. The city also owns and operates its own water and light utilities along with a power plant.
“Council members must take the time to work with the city manager and other city positions when it comes to the city’s utilities and budget,” Groshong said.
One issue that current and future mayors and council members have to deal with is the vast amount of social media residents use.
“Public figures are now expected to supply information and responses more often and with more speed than in the past decade,” Groshong said. “It can sometimes make reaching a simple solution that all can agree on a challenging thing to do.”
The duties of a council member have multiplied in number and complexity over the past 20 years, Hindman said.
“The stipends are more of an equal-opportunity provision to ensure everyone who wants to run for office has the ability to do so,” Hindman said.
Council members must devote at least 20 hours of work each week toward city matters — and that is a conservative number, Groshong and Hindman said.
McDavid took a similar stance.
"We don't want to exclude people from having the opportunity to run for mayor," McDavid said.
There was no actual formula used to determine the stipends.
“It was more of a consensus agreement,” Groshong said. “We arrived at the most agreed upon numbers — not too big, not to small.”
Fourth Ward Councilman Daryl Dudley was somewhat skeptical of the proposition. “While I agree with offsetting the costs incurred by doing one’s duty as a council member, I would not want the stipend to be so big as to encourage people to run just for the money,” Dudley said.