Columbia City Council members say they are donating an increasing amount of time and expense to their volunteer posts, prompting debate about whether they should be paid. The Missourian asked council candidates on the April 3 ballot for their views about the issue.
Darwin Hindman favors some form of compensation for City Council members, saying it’s no longer fair to expect them to work for free in a city the size of Columbia, which demands so much from council members. Compensation, he said, would also help them recoup their expenses and encourage them to attend conferences that would make them better council members. “The more complicated it gets, the more difficult it is to keep up with what’s going on,” Hindman said about working in city government.
John Clark said there is a dramatic need for increased support of council members, including a modest stipend. Compensation, he said, is necessary to create a more representative and more effective council. He has said that the lack of compensation for council members is a reflection of the value we place on them.
Third Ward candidates
Karl Skala said he doesn’t believe council members should be paid. “I think we have enough people with talent willing to be on the council because they want to,” Skala said. “I certainly had no expectation of a salary when I decided to run.” Skala said that he is wary of opening up the city charter solely for council pay but that it’s up to the community. “I’m not absolutely opposed to council pay, but I don’t favor it in general,” Skala said. Skala would like to see more staff support for council members, though.
Gary Kespohl does not believe council members should be paid. People should serve because they want to, not to make money, he said. Having been a volunteer for his church and for Little League Baseball for many years, Kespohl said he values the strength of a volunteer organization.
Fourth Ward candidates
Mike Holden said hiring city staff dedicated to easing the burden on council members might be an alternative to council pay. The staff, he said, could serve as liaisons between council members and constituents, answering questions or providing services. Holden called pay for council members a “moving target.” While some pay could reimburse council members for expenses, too much could take away from the volunteer spirit, he said. “You don’t want pay for council members to be so high that it is attractive as a potential job.”
Jerry Wade favors stipends for council members. “We have to stop pretending like we are a small town,” he said during a March 1 candidate forum. “We need to have office space, support staff, and there needs to be pay. It doesn’t need to be large.” Wade said he and his wife spoke about the time and money his campaign would use before he launched it. “I don’t think the council should cause me to lose money,” he said. He has also said council pay would make it possible for more people to run for office.