The Escondido City Council last week voted to give itself an annual 5% raise over two years for a 10% total, effective one year from now. The vote was Abed, Morasco and Masson, yes; Gallo and Diaz, no.
Michael McGuinness, city attorney, updated the council on their options.
By law, the city council must vote on a possible pay raise every two years. The raise can’t take effect until the new city council is ready to be seated, right after the even number year elections. Next year three council members will be up for election, including Mayor Sam Abed, councilmember Ed Gallo and Deputy Mayor John Masson.
During the discussion, Mayor Abed argued the pay raise was relatively trivial, about $190 per year for the council. “And it could not be me. I’m not doing it for me, I’m doing it for whomever gets elected in the next election,” he said.
Although the council is required by statute to vote on a raise, it is not obligated to adopt a raise. It could, for example, leave the council’s salary the same. The last time the council authorized a raise was 2015.
California Government code says a council’s pay raise cannot exceed 5% per calendar year. Automatic increases are not allowed. The increase can’t begin until one or more council members begin a new period of office. Retirement, health and welfare are not included in that total.
The new salaries will be $2088.91 a month for the council and $3806.66 for the mayor.
Two members of the audience spokes, both against the council getting a raise. Both criticized the council for voting to outsource the library management.
“This is a troubled city,” said one speaker. “It has a reputation for being a little Arizona.” He said the city gets sued frequently, and that its recent decision to outsource the library, had sparked another lawsuit. “Do you deserve a raise? Absolutely not,” he said.
During the discussion, Gallo said he thought the council should adopt a 5% increase over the two-year period, instead of 10%. Gallo said that years ago someone had told him that the council should be paid more because right now only retired people or independently wealthy people could afford to serve.
“Having said that, the cost of living was listed as 2.457 percent. My recommendation is that we take five percent total, as opposed to 5 percent a year,” said Gallo.
Council member Olga Diaz said she has always felt uncomfortable about voting for a salary increase for herself. “It has always seemed odd to me that we would consider our own raises. Tacky that we raise our own salaries. I’ve never voted for that because of that weirdness.” She asked for a committee or a city commission to make the decision.
“Yet you take the raise,” said Abed.
Diaz countered that for her first four years in office she used to refuse to take the raise, until she realized she was the only one taking that stand. Then she began taking the raise. She offered to stop taking it if other council members would do the same.
“We don’t give our employees a five percent raise,” she said. “We get a ten percent increase over two years and some of our employees are eking out a living
“It’s a fair argument,” said Abed, but added that even with a ten percent raise, “it’s actually below minimum wage. I understand the percentages are higher than what we are giving our employees.” The mayor said he spends seven days a week and 24-hours worrying. “We are taking a reasonable compensation. We’re confident that we are doing a good job for the city. We’re talking about $190,” he said.
Deputy Mayor Masson observed, “It IS rather awkward. The weird thing is I don’t know how you measure performance when you have political disagreements.” He said they could always leave it to staff to recommend an amount, “But I don’t know that would be any more legitimate.”
Masson added, “We are underpaid. From the criticism and public harassment we get. I know it comes with the job. But I still spend twenty to thirty hours a week. But I do it more for the service than for the pay.”
He said that eventually the city would have to pay its council members enough to recruit “quality people” who could do it full time. He said it was somewhat awkward to vote for a raise when they negotiate with their labor groups. “But it’s very small and I don’t have a whole lot of heartburn about it.”
Council member Mike Morasco observed that they go around and around on this issue every two years. “The merit pay option,” he quipped. “I’m all for that!”