Open Forum: Council pay raises — Whatever happened to public service?

Posted: March 25, 2013

Mark down the date March 12, 2013. That is the date that the Winchester City Council, without any debate, voted to change forever, and for the worse, the future of local representative government in the City of Winchester.

By its 7-0 vote (with one abstention and one absence), the Council voted to raise to unprecedented levels the salaries of its members effective July 15, 2015.

Never mind that for decades, City Council members were paid $50 per month for their efforts, while the mayor received $100 per month. In 2008, those amounts were raised to $300 per month for councilors and $400 per month for the mayor. In 2015, those amounts will rise to $750 per month for councilors and $900 per month for the mayor and president of council.

These extraordinary salary increases were approved on top of health insurance benefits that the Council recently voted for itself. Keep in mind that members of the Winchester School Board, Planning Commission, Parks and Recreation Board, and other appointed bodies put in countless hours and receive no compensation for their service.

In this economy, when so many people are struggling to make ends meet, why does this City Council find it necessary to continually reward itself for its efforts? What happened to the idea that serving on City Council was a “public service”?

What happened to the notion that our locally elected officials actually serve our interests instead of their own?

The apparent motivation for this incredible pay raise was to entice more citizens to run for council. Do we really need to entice citizens to run for office by paying them part-time salaries with benefits?

What’s next, a retirement plan, vehicle stipend and clothing allowance?

We have an experienced city manager who recently hired an assistant city manager at a reported salary of $100,000, not including benefits. We easily could hire a few new teachers or police officers with that $100,000 and the new 2015 council salaries.

According to their most recently filed Statements of Economic Interests, most current council members do not seem dependent on the $300 to $400 they currently earn for serving on the council. Between securities, business interests, and real estate holdings, most councilors appear to be doing just fine financially.

Two councilors did not even bother to file their statutorily required statements by the January 15 deadline, and still had not filed them as of March 14.

All of this shows that paying salaries to councilors will not entice members of the public to step up and serve. What it will do is replace public servants with people who may be motivated more by money and benefits than a true sense of serving the community.

And this is why Council has changed forever, and for the worse, the future of our local representative government in Winchester.

Timothy S. Coyne is a resident of Winchester.