Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Council pay-raise committee an effort in futility

Looks like we’re packing our bags for futile-ville again. The City Council has created another committee to study City Council pay. Really? Haven’t we been down this road to nowhere repeatedly the past 10 years?

Ask any reasonable person about council pay and they’ll agree that the members of the Tucson City Council are woefully underpaid. But ask voters and they don’t think so. They’ve rejected it four times in the past nine years, 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2010.

What’s changed in the two years since voters last said no that makes the city council think they’ll say yes this time?

Um, nothing.

In fact, the city council’s reputation is as bad now as it’s ever been. Try as the city might to improve its reputation, it can’t go more than a month before some new scandal kicks its rep back into the gutter.

This time the council will cobble together a committee of so-called stakeholders to come up with really, really, really good reasons why council members should get more money.

Yeah, like that will work.

That’s what the Southern Arizona Leadership Council tried to do two years ago but its reasons were the same as the past three attempts to boost pay – the council works hard for the people, more than full-time, yet gets paid part-time wages and quality council candidates are vital to the leadership of the city and low pay is a barrier to quality candidates (or at least candidates other than the rich or retired).

A good argument. But voters didn’t buy it. (To be fair, SALC didn’t really want council pay on the ballot in 2010, it wanted city charter reform to give the city manager more authority, but the council wouldn’t put it on the ballot without a pay increase on the ballot, too. SALC members thought council pay would doom the other reforms and they were right, the whole package went down in flames).

Maybe what’s needed is the city goes more than two years without any scandals and the council gets all the pools and parks open again, fills the more than 100 police officer positions the budget crisis emptied, cleans the medians and curbs, fills the potholes, fixes the cruddy streets, gets the convention center fixed, buries the hatchet with Rio Nuevo and fills the streetcar stem to stern with full-fare-paying riders and maybe voters will finally think it’s worthy of a pay bump.

But don’t hold your breath.

A city of a half-million and growing run by a part-time council is laughable. But the city charter requires any changes in council pay go before voters.

The archaic city charter is the source of many of the city’s problems. Perhaps the committee that’s really needed is city charter reform (or repeal) and as part of that reform package voter-approved council pay could be eliminated.

Charter reform also would be a tough sell, but perhaps not as tough as a council pay raise. A fifth pay-raise attempt in 10 years is futile and should be abandoned for more realistic reforms.

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