Stipends mark historic change for City Council representatives

Sunday, May 4, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:27 a.m. CDT, Monday, May 5, 2014

CORRECTION: Second Ward Councilman Michael Trapp was elected to his first term in 2012. An earlier version of the article misstated how long he has been in office.

COLUMBIA — Between 1919 and 1949, city council members were paid $10 per meeting, allowing them to earn a salary of up to $300 per year — but when Columbia's City Charter was passed in 1949, council members became volunteers. 

Voters rejected four proposals to pay council members, most recently in 1992, but in a special April 2011 election, voters passed a proposal granting stipends to council members, with almost 70 percent of votes in favor. The proposal amended Section 7 of Columbia's Home Rule Charter.

A three-year delay was placed on the amendment to ensure no member serving at the time of its passage would be paid unless re-elected.

Ward representatives will now receive an annual stipend of $6,000, and the mayor will receive $9,000. The amount of these stipends will be adjusted every three years. Lynn Cannon, city assistant director of finance, said the money will come out of the general fund.

Council members will receive payments every two weeks, like other city employees.  The first of 24 payments will be handed to them in check form at Monday's City Council meeting by City Clerk Sheela Amin. The rest of the payments will be made to council members via direct deposit.

The first payment for City Council members should be about $250, but because of tax deductions, Administrative Support Assistant Pat Schreiner said Friday, she did not know the exact amount of each check.

Previously, council members received no compensation for their work but were reimbursed for necessary expenses under Section 7 of Columbia's Home Rule Charter. Cannon said council members will still be able to ask the city for reimbursements.

Second Ward Councilman Michael Trapp, who is serving his third year*, said the council "has already benefited by allowing younger and less wealthy members like myself" and newly elected First Ward Councilwoman Ginny Chadwick "who might not have been able to afford to serve without the stipend. We have a more diverse and representative body as a result."

Trapp said most weeks he puts in about 40 hours on council business while also working as a substance abuse counselor at Phoenix Health Programs. Third Ward representative Karl Skala said when considering council meetings, work sessions, constituent consultations and attendance at conferences or committees, the job probably averages out to more than 40 hours a week.

"Some taxpayers will always consider these new stipends unnecessary," Skala said in an email. "But frankly, I was always rather embarrassed to admit to other elected officials that Columbia's City Council, in a city of 115,000 people, did not compensate their council members for our considerable efforts on behalf of our constituents."

The stipends are meant to cover incidental expenses for council members. Trapp said his expenses include gas, obligatory lunches and dinners; Skala said the stipends will benefit council members with professional development activities and networking with other municipal officials.

"I think the stipend is small enough where no one would ever do it just for the money and that a high level of civic responsibility is still a prerequisite to serve because of the incredible sacrifice of time and energy," Trapp said. 

Supervising editor is John Schneller.

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Tracy Greever-Rice May 4, 2014 | 2:01 p.m.

Trapp is in the 3rd year of his first term.

You need to fix it.

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