In your best “Golden Girls” Sophia Petrillo voice, “Picture it, Mobile, 1997.”
Downtown Mobile was starting to once again become the “heart” of the city, with a few restaurants and bars keeping the nights alive when the bankers and lawyers left work for the day.
Former Mayor Mike Dow’s “pearls” were beginning to emerge from their shells all over downtown – their success leading many to jump on Dow’s strand wagon, while others like City Councilwoman Bess Rich preached against the dangers of too much capital spending and the virtues of addressing the city’s “basic needs and services” first.
Ahhh, it was such a simpler time. Cute, even.
I remember Mobile in 1997. I didn’t care about Mike Dow or Bess Rich or pearls or city sales tax increases. I was 20 and a sophomore at the University of South Alabama and had just taken a part-time job as a hostess at one of the hottest new restaurants downtown, Drayton Place, “A Tavern of Taste,” where we were known for our lobster bisque and crab dip and for every Thursday night being “Lobster Night.” Joe Lewis or John Anthony and TK Lively would provide the tunes on live music nights, and after we finished rolling silverware and refilling the ketchup bottles, all of the servers and bartenders would head to Red’s or Monsoon’s to see some live music, and then head to Hayley’s and close them down as well.
Ahhh, my misspent youth was so well spent.
One of the biggest world events of 1997 was the death of Princess Diana. I found out about her tragic death because one of my fellow wiseass 20-something-year-old co-workers wrote her name on the “86 Board.” If you have never worked in a restaurant, the “86 Board” is where you write the items or specials you no longer have. Probably not the sweetest or most mature way to spread that kind of news, but I have never forgotten seeing her name spelled out above the crab dip or whatever it was we were out of that night.
Elton John’s tribute to Diana, “Candle in the Wind,” would become the number one song that year. My aunt would soon find her own way to honor the princess by purchasing ceramic dolls from the back of the PARADE magazine of Lady Di sporting her most iconic gowns.
“The English Patient” would sweep the Academy Awards and “Seinfeld,” “Friends” and “ER” were still everyone’s choice for “Must See TV.” There were no smartphones (I think I had a Nokia handset). And Facebook, Instagram and Twitter certainly didn’t exist. Mark Zuckerberg was just 13. And this newspaper wouldn’t hit the streets of Mobile for the first time for another five years.
All this, just to say it was a really, really long time ago. A lifetime ago even.
And that was the last time the mayor and City Council of Mobile had a pay adjustment – 23 years ago.
Councilman Joel Daves has sponsored a resolution to change that, and the council is expected to vote on it October 6.
I know, I know, no one ever thinks a politician should get a pay raise, with the general consensus being, “They don’t deserve what they get right now.”
I get it.
And city employees are always going to object, saying they are the ones who deserve a raise, even if they just got one. (Pay has gone up 50 percent for them in the same time period.)
I get that too.
And sometimes I am sure those sentiments are 100 percent correct. Sometimes certain public officials do not deserve what they are paid, but at the same time, some deserve more. And sometimes some city employees are absolutely still not making enough money (compared to other cities), even if they did get five raises in the last five years.
But it’s still been a long time since the mayor and Mobile 7 got a bump.
And the council is currently considering a 33 percent total increase for their pay. It would take the annual base salary of the part-time position from $19,800 to $24,600. But the rate councilors are paid per meeting would also be increased from $175 to $300 per meeting. If the councilperson were to attend all 48 meetings, his or her salary would increase another $14,400 per year. They already receive a $325 stipend for local expenses per month and that would not change.
So, they essentially would go from $32,800 per year to $42,900. That’s an increase of $10,100 per year. The same ordinance would increase the mayor’s pay — a position that is full time — from $89,000 to $125,000 per year.
Neither would go into effect until after the next election in 2021.
Most of the councilors seem to be in agreement the mayor’s salary should increase. It’s the lowest mayoral salary of any of Alabama’s major cities. Huntsville’s makes $175,926 a year; Tuscaloosa’s gets $149,433; while Birmingham’s comes in at $107,500.
It’s a full-time job. And if we really want someone who is worth a damn to run, we are going to have to be able to pay the mayor a salary that is at least somewhere in the ballpark of what a CEO or other qualified professional in our city would make. Because what sane person is going to be willing to take that much of a pay cut to be mayor?
Our current mayor, who made his money prior to running, doesn’t have to take that into consideration, but how many independently wealthy folks do we have sitting around ready to give up time at their own company or on the golf course to run our city? I would think that pool is pretty shallow. And, too, do we really want ONLY the wealthiest among us to be able to run? While I think our current mayor does a great job, and I am glad he wanted this gig, is that really what the founding fathers had in mind? I don’t think so, but I also don’t think they wanted lifelong bureaucrats in office either, which is the only other type of candidate you would attract for mayor if there isn’t a reasonable salary.
There is definitely that perfect number that would make smart, qualified, non-insane folks at least think twice about running for office. Is that number $125,000? I am not sure, but this discussion is long overdue, and I am glad the council is taking this on.
The City Council gig is supposed to be a part-time job, but in reality, very few have been able to treat it as such. How many people can work full-time jobs themselves and then also be a part-time councilperson — at least in Mobile where you are going to miss most of the Tuesday workday for meetings and then have to deal with constituent issues and committee meetings the other days?
More often it has attracted retirees, people who can rely on their spouse’s income or the already underemployed to run. Unless it changes to a full-time position that is not going to change. While the per meeting increase they are considering does seem a bit steep, I do think in order to attract good candidates, they probably should be paid at least a wee bit more than they were in the year when the first Harry Potter book and “Titanic” were released, gas was $1.22 a gallon, Bill Clinton was in office and Nick Saban was still coaching at Michigan State.
We need to address this in some reasonable way, so we can make sure our city continues to move in the right direction for years and years to come.
Picture it, Mobile, 2047.
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