Despite the long hours and occasional personal expense involved in their service, members of the Columbia City Council get no salary and no stipend.
At a forum sponsored Saturday by the Central Columbia Get Out the Vote Committee, however, all three candidates for mayor — incumbent Darwin Hindman and challengers Arch Brooks and John Clark — said the idea should at least be re-examined.
The forum, which lasted nearly two hours, focused largely on the responsiveness of city government. With that in mind, Clark said he would like to see the city create more wards and pay stipends to its council members.
Hindman agreed stipends might help increase the diversity of people interested in running for council but noted that voters have repeatedly rejected the idea.
“It has been brought to the people a good many times,” he said.
Paying council members would require a change in the city’s charter and thus a public vote. Voters most recently rejected council pay in April 1992. Under that plan, the mayor would have received $6,375 and other council members $4,250. The proposal was based on minimum wage for 30 hours per week for the mayor and 20 for other council members.
Hindman said that a new proposal might pass because Columbia has grown since 1992. He later said he doesn’t necessarily support paying council members but believes it should be explored.
Hindman said council members are reimbursed if they’re required to travel for the city, but there is no pay to compensate for the other costs, including missed work. Hindman, who is paid by the hour as an attorney, said the demands of council service have increased during his nine years in office. He said that while it varies, he sometimes works more than 40 hours per week as mayor.
“The time I spend being mayor comes right out of my pocket,” he said. “I’m paying the overhead at the office and not getting the income.”
Because of the time commitment, prospective council candidates might have to consider the cost of child care. Both Clark and Hindman said that expense could prevent some from running. Clark added that he doesn’t think a stipend would entice people to run but that financial constraints might prevent some from seeking the posts.
“I think it would increase the number of people willing to at least think about running,” he said of council pay.
Brooks said the city council needs to be “treated more like a business” and that salaries are among a host of policy changes it should consider in an effort to increase its professionalism.
No candidate offered a figure of how much council members should be paid.
Clark said that if elected he would propose that the council form a commission to investigate several things, including council stipends. He said making recommendations before appointing such groups defeats the purpose.
Hindman compared the council to the state legislature, saying both are supposed to be composed of offices that anyone could step in and fill. State legislators earn $30,000 and collect other benefits, he said.
“At the city council level, you have a greater impact on the citizens,” Hindman said. “There’s more scrutiny. The press cover the mayor, certainly, like nothing else. What’s the difference, and why the difference?”