Locals mull council raise
In the business world, when it becomes hard to find candidates to fill a job, it may be time to increase what the position pays.With few interested in serving on Glenwood Springs City Council, some local political observers believe it’s time to give council members a raise.For that matter, former council member Don “Hooner” Gillespie thinks the job should be considered full-time, and the pay adjusted accordingly.”It’s to the point now I think it’s a full-time job, to be done right, if you want to know the truth,” he said. “We’re no longer a small town, and there’s a lot of issues that go on.”David Hauter, who has been involved for years in downtown issues, thinks council members should make a lot more than they do. They are asked to deal with intricate matters such as planning proposals and matters surrounding the Downtown Development Authority, he said.”You can’t just do that casually. It has to become at a minimum a half-time job,” he said.And it ought to pay at least $2,000 a month, he said. Council members now make $500 a month, and the mayor $700 a month.Gillespie said that practically speaking, council members probably put in 20 to 25 hours a week now, between attending meetings, studying issues, and talking to city staff and the public.”You’re asking for a lot for somebody to take this on, because it does take a lot of time,” he said. “To me you can get a lot more done if you had a full-time council. You’re asking for exactly what you’re getting when you’re having a part-time council.”Two men who just finished four-year council terms, Dan Richardson and Mayor Larry Emery, cited time considerations in deciding not to run again this year. The people who took their places on council – Dave Johnson and Kris Chadwick – faced no opposition in this fall’s election. Bob Wolfarth, though semi-retired, backed out of a race against Chadwick because he worried he wouldn’t have the time to do the job right.Some other local elections also were uncontested, including those for the Roaring Fork School District Re-1 and Colorado Mountain College boards.Gillespie said he knows of “pretty capable people” who would have run for council but don’t have time, often because of job and family commitments. Hauter said he couldn’t be on council and run his architectural practice, and do either effectively. “It’s got to be a really full-time focus to do that job,” he said.Hauter and others especially worry that few younger people are able to serve on council while both working and raising families. Emery said his time on council cut into his work and family time.”People don’t run for council because of compensation. They run because they want to do something for the city, and that’s why I ran,” he said.But once on council, he began to see how much time it took, cutting into other aspects of his life.He thinks a pay increase would cause more people to run. He doesn’t think it needs to be a full-time salary. “But I think it needs to be some middle ground that makes sense,” he said.Former council member Martha Cochran objects to the idea of a council receiving full-time pay.”I don’t think we want to go there, because it’s not a job, it’s a civic responsibility. We don’t want people to stay on council for years and years because they get paid,” she said.A full-time, salaried council for a city of Glenwood’s size would be one-of-a-kind in Colorado, said Sam Mamet, executive director of the Colorado Municipal League, the association of Colorado municipal governments. The only city he can think of with a full-time council is Denver.Cochran doubts the city ever would raise pay enough that it would keep people from having to work another job, and she also worries about people being attracted to council just for the money. To her, it should be about community service.”How did people get so detached from where they live that they don’t think they need to take care of it?” she asked. “Maybe they think they wouldn’t make a difference, and you know the thing about council is, you really get to make a difference.”Cochran acknowledged how hard council service, with its frequent night meetings, is on a family, however.”With little kids it is impossible because that’s the only time you see them is in the evening,” she said.Cochran said she served on council before having a child, and a lot of council members seem to wait to run for office until their children are raised.Gillespie said if Glenwood Springs is supposed to have citizen-politicians rather than professional ones, “then why aren’t they coming forth?”Mamet doesn’t see huge cause for concern when council races go uncontested. He said that on average in Colorado, as much as a third of municipal elections are called off for lack of candidates.”I don’t know that that’s always necessarily a bad thing. If you’re satisfied with the people on council and they’re doing a good job, well, that’s an affirmation of that.”Mamet said he would be concerned if major issues needed to be addressed yet council races were going uncontested.Glenwood city manager Jeff Hecksel said it has been common where he’s worked in other communities outside Colorado to have council races go uncontested. Where he has seen more interest in running for seats, it is usually because of issues that have galvanized a community, he said.Ideally, more people would want to serve on council, he said. “But it is what it is. I think it’s good that at least some people are interested in doing it.”He’s not sure whether more pay would make a difference. And it would mean more expense for a city already dealing with a tight budget. Ultimately, it’s up to a community to decide what its council members should be paid, he said.Typically, it’s uncommon to have full-time, salaried elected officials in a city manager form of government, Hecksel noted. He said council members have some control over how much time they spend on the job, and over his career, he has seen some councils that accomplish twice as much as other councils, and in half the time. As long as councils are engaged and thoughtful, “everything past that is their choice” in terms of how much time they invest as officeholders, he said.Hecksel and Gillespie both said the criticism that is leveled at public officeholders can be a disincentive to run for council.”You’re volunteering your time to do what you think is your civic duty as an elected official. You’re trying to give back to your town and you’re getting beat up. Why would anybody do that?” Hecksel said. “How often does someone come up and say ‘thank you’ to a city council?”But Gillespie said council service also has its rewards. Even if the public doesn’t know what council members accomplish, “at least you can walk away with a good feeling about yourself,” he said.Cochran sees council service as simply a time to debate issues, “and then you vote and then it’s done. … I think it’s a lot less abrasive than people perceive it to be.”Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
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