Looks like the Fresno City Council will consider raising the salaries of council members today, Thursday, December 6.
It’s not accurate to say “give themselves a raise.” The rules are a bit involved as to who would get the money. But it’s accurate to say that the proposal from Council Member Oliver Baines calls for a pay boost of more than 20% for eligible council members and the council president.
The proposed ordinance on Thursday’s agenda calls for the council president to make $85,000 a year and each of the other six council members to make $80,000 annually. The council president currently makes $70,170; each of the remaining council members currently makes $65,000 annually.
The proposed ordinance does not call for a raise to the Mayor’s $130,000 annual salary. Baines’ proposal is subject to a mayoral veto, which would require five votes to override.
The raises, says Baines’ proposal, would apply to “each Councilmember commencing a new term of office, or those newly elected to fill the balance of a term,….” The City Charter prohibits the increase or decrease of an elected official’s salary during that elected official’s term of office.
Who among the current council members would be eligible for the raise?
The way I see it, District 3’s Baines would be out of luck. He’s termed out in January. The same would hold true for District 7’s Clint Oliver. (Of course, both could get the raise if they sat out an election cycle, then convinced the voters to return them to the council dais.)
District 2’s Steve Brandau and District 4’s Paul Caprioglio are in the same boat. They’re midway through the second of two consecutive terms on the council. They’ll be termed out before commencing a new term of office under the new pay formula.
District 6’s Garry Bredefeld is mid-way through his first of potentially two consecutive terms (he also served on the council from 1997 to 2001). Bredefeld would get the raise if he were re-elected in 2020 (thus beginning a new term of office in January 2021).
District 1’s Esmeralda Soria (the current council president) and District 5’s Luis Chavez were re-elected in 2018. Soria easily won a second 4-year term in the June primary. Chavez, who was elected in 2016 to complete the term of new Fresno County Supervisor Sal Quintero, won a full 4-year term of his own in the November general election.
Soria and Chavez would commence a new term of office in January. On Thursday, they will be voting on whether to give themselves a raise as of next month.
The key question for Thursday: Is it time for a City Council raise?
My view: Yes.
It’s been 12 years since the last council raise. That’s a long time between pay raises for the policy-making legislature of the fifth largest city in California and the 34th largest city in America. Council members on $65,000 a year aren’t starving. But they do shoulder considerable responsibilities. It’s not unreasonable to compensate them accordingly.
There are a lot of potential contextual points to Baines’ proposal. Is being a Fresno City Council Member a full-time job, especially in this era of the FresnoGO app? Do higher council salaries attract better qualified council candidates? Should the raise be less than 20%-plus? More than what Baines proposes? Should the Mayor’s salary get a boost, too? Is it wise, as Baines proposes, to tie future council raises to a formula involving the pay of county supervisors?
These and other questions should make for a lively and valuable debate.
One final note.
Miguel Arias will succeed Baines in District 3. Nelson Esparza will succeed Olivier in District 7. They would begin new terms of office in January and, as I understand Baines’ proposal, be in line for the raises.
Arias and Esparza in the November general election beat candidates backed by Mayor Lee Brand. What happens if Baines’ proposal passes on a 4-3 vote, thus sending it to the Mayor’s desk? Does Brand approve the raises, hoping in part to generate some good will from two new council members who tend to be at the opposite end of the political spectrum from him?
I don’t know. I do sense that good will among political rivals rarely survives the first test of self-interest.