San Jose asks citizens what they think their officials should be paid

150 150 Cheryl Getuiza

San Jose is asking its citizens what they think their officials should be paid. (Photo Credit: 401(k) 2013)

Two cents doesn’t sound like much, but in the city of San Jose, your two cents is worth a lot.

If you’ve ever wanted to throw yours (two cents, that is) in on how much you believe the mayor and city council members should make, well now is the time to do so. The City Council Salary Setting Commission is gathering input regarding compensation for the Mayor and City Council.

“The Commission was approved at the election of November 4, 1980,” said Toni Taber, Acting City Clerk. “It is made up of five members, from the community, appointed by the Civil Service Commission.”

Under city charter, the commission meets every odd-numbered year and makes recommendations to the City Council.

Currently, the Mayor makes $114,000 and council members take home $81,000 annually.

What’s an appropriate compensation for each elected member? That’s the big question. And making that decision isn’t taken lightly.

“The commission does a survey of comparable jurisdictions, a public survey, and a public outreach meeting,” said Taber.

Getting involved is easy and encouraged.

The commission is conducting an online survey as a way to increase public participation. With several clicks of your mouse, you can let the commission know what you believe are appropriate salaries and benefits.

This is only the second year of the survey. In 2011, 890 people participated. That’s not a lot considering there are more than 960,000 people living in the city.

“If you ask folks in a public opinion survey if they think their public official is overpaid, most would say yes, but there are not any means of engaging them as to how much too much is. Unlike most cities which have city council salaries set by the state, there is an opportunity for the residents of charter cities to participate in the decision,” said Fred Silva, Senior Fiscal Policy Advisor for California Forward.

“It may be that citizens in a community may be far more interested in the way their public services are provided–whether it’s law enforcement, or general public safety, recreation services, or their streets. They may be focused on those issues so their level of participation on deciding council pay takes a backseat,” Silva said.

 “A survey like this is unique, I haven’t heard of many municipalities reaching out like this.”

If you want your thoughts to be counted, you have until March 31st.

“The purpose of the survey is for the commission to take the public’s opinion into account as they develop their recommendation,” said Taber.

As part of the process, the Commission also wants to hear from current and former Mayors and members of the City Council, candidates from the 2012 City elections, other public officials and any other citizen, at one of the upcoming meetings.

This is a chance for folks to get involved and engaged, to be closer to their government, yet, citizens aren’t answering the call. “The meetings are not well-attended by the public, which is why they do the survey,” said Taber.

General law cities have their salaries controlled by statute where as charter cities, like San Jose, can set their own salary system.

Do you remember the small working class community of Bell?  The headlines said it all: “Corruption on Steroids.” City officials were making obscene amounts of money, some receiving some of the highest public salaries in the nation.

“The city of Bell, when they adopted a charter, that’s when they got into trouble because they paid their council members and city managers outrageous amounts of money,” said Silva.

After that mess, you’d think more people would want a pulse on their public servants salaries.

“It’s hard to get resident’s to participate in their day to day operational things,” added Silva.

The Commission will issue a report by April 30 that will set compensation levels beginning July 1, 2013 through June 30, 2015. The City Council must either accept or reject the recommendations.

“The council can adopt a lower amount, but they can’t adopt a higher amount.”

Since the process began back in 1980, past councils approved the Commission’s recommendations, in fact, one city council asked for less than the recommended pay.

This is the kind of process that restores trust in local governments. Don’t get left out in the dark.

Want to see what past San Jose city council members made? Check it out here.


Cheryl Getuiza

All stories by: Cheryl Getuiza