Mayor joins ‘no’ votes to spike stipend raise

In a 4-3 vote with Mayor Beth Wythe breaking the tie, the Homer City Council at its regular meeting on Monday killed a proposed ordinance to raise its monthly stipend. Council members Beau Burgess, David Lewis and Francie Roberts sponsored Ordinance 14-17(A) that would have boosted each council member’s pay from $50 a month to $150 a month or $75 a council meeting day. The mayor’s stipend would have gone up from $75 a month to $150 a month. Burgess, Lewis and Robert all voted yes, and council members Barbara Howard, Gus Van Dyke and Bryan Zak all voted no. The ordinance had previously been amended to replace “salary” with “stipend.”

Burgess was the main advocate of the stipend increase. His idea was to increase the stipend so, for example, council members with children could hire a babysitter so they could attend meetings.

“The intent is, we have five, six, eight council meetings a month, 20 hours a month — I don’t think anyone should have to choose between sitting on this council and sacrificing on the other end,” Burgess said.

Howard said she would have been more comfortable with the ordinance if it had been brought up during the regular budget cycle next fall. Burgess said he chose to raise the idea now so it would have the full scrutiny of the public.

Nobody testified at a public hearing on Monday, and only one email on the ordinance was received.

Another change in the ordinance would have tied pay to performance. A council member would get nothing if absent.

Roberts said she agreed with Burgess’ idea of getting more people to run.

“I think it’s the right thing to do, to encourage especially young people,” she said. “I think it’s important to have diversity at our table.”

Lewis said he didn’t think low pay was a deterrent to people running for the council.

“What really keeps people from serving on the council is they don’t enjoy being yelled at or told they’re wrong in the paper,” he said.

Among people who attended the Citizens Academy, Howard said she never heard people didn’t get paid enough to be on the council.

“They did say that in a way you could never pay me enough to do this job, period,” she said. “A lot of folks are so busy raising their families or enjoying their lives.”

Changing the stipend before the October elections also would have set up an experiment, Burgess said: See if the change lures more lower- or middle-class people to run.

“I’m not convinced we’re ever going to know unless we try it before an election cycle,” he said. 

The ordinance would have allowed council members or the mayor to not take a stipend or to donate it to a nonprofit. Wythe said she didn’t like the idea of the city acting as an elected official’s bookkeeper. Wythe said she learned she or council members already can elect not to be paid.

“I wrote a note to the payroll clerk to quit paying me,” she said.

Wythe had made it clear in earlier discussion she would not support the ordinance. With the vote tied 3-3, she did not hesitate to join the nays and vote the ordinance down.