The Mobile City Council has proposed a 33 percent increase in the elected body’s pay following the 2021 municipal elections. The same ordinance would increase the mayor’s pay from $89,000 to $125,000 per year.
Councilors are split on the increases for the seven-member elected body, but most seem fine with an increase for the city’s executive office. Still, the proposed pay bump has made for some unusual allies in council chambers. With two councilors already vowing to oppose the raises when the item comes up for a vote in two weeks, the other five members will have to be in near lockstep for the proposal to be successful.
Councilman Joel Daves, the proposal’s sponsor, defended the proposal, saying it would be the first adjustment in pay for the elected leaders since 1997.
“After the 2021 election, it will have been 24 years,” Daves said. “Since that time, the city’s budget has almost doubled, increasing 80 to 90 percent and pay for city employees has gone up 50 percent.”
The ordinance, which is set to appear on the council agenda at Tuesday’s regular meeting, would raise the council’s annual base salary from $19,800 to $24,600. The rate councilors are paid per meeting would also be increased from $175 per meeting to $300 per meeting. That means if a councilor were to attend all 48 meetings, the proposed ordinance would increase the salary another $14,400 per year. Previously, councilors earned just $8,900 additional per year if they attended all meetings. Councilors also receive a $325 stipend for local expenses per month. That would not change.
The proposal, therefore, would lift council salaries from $32,800 per year to $42,900. That’s an increase of $10,100 per year.
Due to the current leadership on council and in the mayor’s office, Daves said, the city is seeing a strong fiscal condition not enjoyed since its founding.
“The turnaround in the city’s finances is attributable to the leadership of the mayor and council,” Daves said. “We’ve given 2.5 percent raises to our employees at a time when other cities are furloughing employees.”
Daves said while it’s hard to draw comparisons between Mobile and the state’s other large cities in relation to elected officials’ pay, he said the 33 percent increase took into account the jump in the city’s budget over the last two decades and its increases in employee pay during that same time.
Councilman John Williams said he’s against the proposed increases for councilors.
“We want to attract people who have been successful and are successful, who want to sacrifice to serve in government,” Williams said. “We don’t want to create jobs for those who want to be part of a government for life.”
Williams argued the mayor’s raise should have been proposed at more than $36,000, stating the top officeholder should maybe make as much as $200,000 per year.
Councilwoman Bess Rich said she too was against the raises for what she called a part-time job.
“By the letter of the law, it’s a part-time job,” she said. “We’re not prohibited — maybe the mayor is — from having careers outside of council.”
Rich, who was on the council the last time the body voted for a raise for its members, opposed it in the late 1990s as well.
“My theory is still the same,” she said. “Councilors should never make more than the starting salary of a police officer.”
As for a raise for the mayor position, Rich said an increase would be in “keeping with other cities.”
“I’m OK with that,” she said.
Despite the two councilors in opposition, Daves does not expect the ordinance to be debated in a committee meeting and anticipates it will receive a vote at the Tuesday, Oct. 6 council meeting.
In an unintended refute of Williams, Council President Levon Manzie argued raising the salary of council members would allow those without the resources to run for office and not work a full-time job a way to do it.
“Those with all financial backgrounds should have an opportunity to serve in our government,” he said. “I’m in support.”
For as long as Councilman Fred Richardson has been on council the pay for members has not increased. That’s too long to do a job without a raise, he said.
“Do you know any one person who worked at the same job for 24 years and hasn’t gotten a raise?” he asked. “I don’t know of nobody who has been doing a job for 24 years and hasn’t gotten a raise. If not now, when?”
In the time between council raises, Richardson said, “everything has gone up.”
“I’m not going to get a dime of it,” he said. “I’m just trying to do what’s right.”
While Richardson is correct about not benefitting from a council pay increase — he will not seek re-election in 2021, the District 1 representative is running for mayor and would be eligible for the raise the mayor is entitled to in the ordinance if it’s passed and he’s elected.
Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s office did not return a request for comment on this story by press time.
This page is available to our local subscribers. Click here to join us today and get the latest local news from local reporters written for local readers. The best deal is found by clicking here. Check it out now.
Already a member of the Lagniappe family? Sign in by clicking here