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MailTribune.com
  • Our Opinion: Not in it for the money

    Paying council members is reasonable, but it won't necessarily start a stampede
  • The Medford City Council is right to consider paying council members something for the time they spend on city business, but that won't necessarily trigger a flood of applicants for a vacant position.
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  • The Medford City Council is right to consider paying council members something for the time they spend on city business, but that won't necessarily trigger a flood of applicants for a vacant position.
    Councilor Daniel Bunn said he "begged" two residents of Ward 2 to apply for the seat left vacant by the death of Councilor Karen Blair, but they declined because the position is unpaid. In response to Bunn's frustration, Councilor John Michaels last week proposed studying the pay idea, and the council approved the motion — barely.
    Mayor Gary Wheeler broke a tie to approve the study after the rest of the council deadlocked 3-3.
    The concept of paying council members is a sensitive one, given the almost certain backlash from the public. Some residents already assume — wrongly — that council members are paid.
    In fact, Medford would not be the first local city to compensate its councilors. Central Point councilors earn a stipend of $1,800 a year; the mayor gets $3,000. Ashland councilors get only $350 and the mayor $500, but the city does provide a health and benefits package.
    Lest anyone think the job is easy, ask a council member how many hours he or she puts in every week attending council meetings and reading official documents. Add in time spent as a council liaison to other decision-making bodies — the Planning Commission, the Site Plan and Architectural Commission, the Rogue Valley Council of Governments — and the commitment can be overwhelming.
    Medford councilors do this for no pay at all. It's one thing for councilors who are retired and choose to donate their time. It's something else again for anyone with a full-time job.
    Some employers are willing to give employees time off in the interest of community service, but certainly not all, and that time off isn't necessarily paid.
    The council has not decided its members should be paid — it only agreed to study the pros and cons. That's a worthwhile endeavor. While they're at it, councilors should consider asking reluctant candidates for a council seat what level of compensation would change their minds.
    No one is suggesting a council seat should pay a full-time salary, but a stipend might help attract qualified applicants.
    A modest stipend would not be a major expense. Even if the city paid the eight councilors and the mayor $10,000 a year each — which no one is suggesting — that would amount to 18 hundredths of 1 percent of the general fund budget of more than $50 million a year.
    But even if the council does eventually decide on some level of compensation, it won't necessarily attract more people. City councilors spend a great deal of time on topics such as road maintenance and utility easements. Even a handsome stipend won't make those subjects riveting.
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