Heated debate over council stipends | November 11, 2022 | Pleasanton Weekly | PleasantonWeekly.com |

Pleasanton Weekly

News - November 11, 2022

Heated debate over council stipends

Pleasanton city electeds' pay going up 10% after split vote

by Christian Trujano

The atmosphere was tense inside the Pleasanton City Council chambers last week as the council members voted 3-2 to increase their monthly pay by 10% following strong remarks from Mayor Karla Brown.

"If you don't want the salary, if you don't want the increase, don't take it. But I'm worth it," Brown said near the end of the Nov. 1 council meeting. "I know I'm worth it and I'm worth a lot more than this. I'm surprised and disappointed by council members who want to make this political."

According to city staff, the city's municipal code concerning council member stipends allows the council to update the salary every calendar year per state law. The last increase was in 2019, which took effect after the start of the next council term in December 2020.

Because it has been two years since the last update, the council was able to approve a maximum of 10%, which resulted in an increase of $120.17 per month for each elected official.

That set the new monthly pay rate of $1,321.92 for council members and $1,421.92 for the mayor.

"They're paying $20 an hour at Chick-fil-A," Brown said. "If you were paid $20 an hour, you would earn about $3,400 a month ... we're a third of that. This is a stipend. I'm worth more."

At the previous council meeting on Oct. 18, Vice Mayor Valerie Arkin motioned for staff to continue the item to the next meeting because she wanted to avoid the discussion becoming political, which is what Brown said ended up happening anyway. The item was originally on the Nov. 1 consent calendar, which are items that are routine in nature and are usually approved without discussion, but Councilmember Jack Balch motioned to pull it out of consent and have it be heard as a public item.

The discussion came exactly one week before the general election, when two council member positions are being contested along with Brown unopposed on the ballot.

"It was my preference to not have it heard before the election in order for it not to become political, which I guess too late for that," Arkin said.

She originally motioned to hold the item, along with another similar item on the Oct. 18 agenda that had to do with health benefits for council members, until after the local campaign season.

But the reason the council had to vote on this particular item concerning their salaries by this past week was because from a procedural point of view, they couldn't delay compensation for the new incoming council members.

In fact, one of the reasons Balch did not agree with the item was because he believed the council should have addressed both items on stipends and benefits in the same meeting for the sake of transparency.

"I think transparency is key in government, especially when we're talking about the handling of public money for the purposes of compensating the mayor and City Council members," Balch said. "I think we should be as forthright and transparent as possible."

He added that in light of key issues the city is facing such as chemicals in the wells and affordable housing growth, he doesn't see why staff needed to dedicate their time for that particular item.

"I think council stipends as well as council benefits should all be at the same night and fully disclosed with a fuller conversation," Balch said.

Councilmember Kathy Narum, who also voted against the increase, said that while she was fine with splitting the increase up into two smaller percentages over the next two years, she was not fine with the total 10% increase.

"I've never viewed this as a job. It's public service. It's a form of volunteering," said Narum, whose tenure on the council ends next month. "It's an honor for us to be able to sit up here, the great majority of the time and so, for me, I can't support a (10%) raise for us, when we're handing out 3.5% raises to our employees."

Narum referenced the recent council approvals to increase managerial positions in the city by 3% and she also referenced Pleasanton Police Department and Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Department's salary contracts.

"It's not about the total sum. It's just about what's the message," she said. "So for me, I would support 3.5% per year ... that's not a problem. But I can't support the (10%) in light of what we're doing for our employees."

However, Councilmember Julie Testa did not agree with both dissenters' points but she did agree that there are more important things to be talking about other than the "political grandstanding that's happening right now."

"The amount is a stipend. It is not a salary," Testa said. "We don't get paid for the amount of time committed, and no one does for the money; you'd be foolish to for what this amount is. There's no effort at avoiding transparency."

Brown also doubled down on what she said is a justifiable compensation for the amount of professional and personal time she has given up in order to do the work as mayor of Pleasanton.

"This is our responsibility -- to take the final vote of over $100 million worth in budgets, over almost 500 employees that fall under our general responsibility," Brown said. "I lose (a lot of) personal time, but I'm not doing it for the money."

She said she is proud of her job and that because it's built into the city's codes, she should be able to vote on increasing her stipend.

"Our own civil code allows us to take a 5% raise (per year)," Brown said. "I'm surprised that anybody would use a salary comparison to a stipend position. I'm just surprised. So it does feel political."

The salary increase would go into effect for the upcoming council starting in December.

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