It has been 14 years since the Mesa mayor and City Council have received pay raises.
After 45 years of the city charter and just two raises during that time, in the nation’s 38th-largest city, council members earn about $19,000 per year, and the mayor, about $38,600 — their salaries set in 1998, plus cost-of-living adjustments.
On Monday, the City Council considered whether to accept a commission’s Nov. 8 recommendation to nearly double the salaries of each office, sending the council members’ salaries to $35,209 and the mayor’s to $70,304. The city charter requires the council to decide its own pay.
When the smoke cleared, the council voted 4-3 against taking the raises.
Mayor Scott Smith, who supported the increase, acknowledged that it was “awkward” to vote for his own pay raise.
“I don’t believe this is a difficult situation — for me, it’s not — but it certainly is an awkward situation,” Smith said.
The council created the Independent Commission on Compensation for Elected Officials in August to research and make a recommendation on potential pay raises. The council’s vote was whether to accept the report which included enacting the recommended raises.
Councilman Dennis Kavanaugh spoke to the Tribune prior to Monday’s meeting, pointing out that the Mesa salaries rank below Arizona cities Peoria, Glendale, Tempe and several other cities nationally that are smaller than Mesa.
“I don’t know of any other job in the public or private sector that’s only had two pay increases over the last 45 years,” Kavanaugh said.
The raises would have made salaries higher than Tempe but still lower than Phoenix.
“People have realized that the city has grown and the job has changed throughout the years ... I look at it as council work is a 24/7 job.”
Kavanaugh, who is a lawyer on top of his council position, said he spends more time on city work.
“Eighty percent of the emails I get during the day is all city related. I can’t get through the grocery store without talking to constituents,” Kavanaugh said.
Supporters said the raises will increase the competition for city offices because too many people cannot afford the low pay.
They pointed out that council members have been running unopposed since 2006.
Supporters also touted the council’s drastic cuts to Mesa’s budget during the economic downturn, and that pay cuts have been restored and raises reinstated.
Bryan Jeffries, president of United Mesa Fire Fighters and a former Phoenix city councilman, said, “Being a part-time council member to close to half-a-million (population) city is just nonsense ... the commitment ... is not part-time,” Jeffries said.
Mesa resident Tom Schuelke said the commission was not independent because it was appointed by the council.
Schuelke also said the recommended increases would attract greedy candidates.
“A large increase in council compensation may result in the wrong kind of people seeking office, people more interested in money than serving the city ... it will discourage competent, civic-minded individuals from seeking to serve.”
Supporters of the raises disputed that they would limit candidates and countered that the raises would open up the fields.
Vice Mayor Scott Somers said that being on the council is about civic pride and civic duty.
He said that he wants to see future councils make more money and agreed it would increase the number of potential candidates, but asked the council to find a way “to implement this in the future so that I’m not voting for my own raise ... I ran knowing that I was only making $18,000 a year.”
Smith challenged there was no way for the council to not decide its own pay because staggered elections mean some council members would have to do so.
Councilwoman Dina Higgins also spoke against the measure, saying that residents of the city are still facing a tough economy with 15,000 in Mesa still out of work and others facing losing their homes.
“I’m receiving $19,000 in salaries, plus an additional $17,000 in (medical and pension) benefits. Together ... this is a fair salary for a part-time job. I would never want to see someone run for office based solely on salary.”
Smith, Kavanaugh and Councilman Dave Richins voted for the raises.
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