Moderated by Rick Badie
The Atlanta City Council recently voted to give itself a nearly $20,000 raise. It takes effect in 2014 after the next group of council members takes office, though that fact didn’t deflect harsh criticism from city employees and some residents. Today, a local union president explains some of the discord over the issue. The president of the North Buckhead Civic Association defends the pay hike and says it will attract qualified public servants.
Police, city workers are underpaid, too
By Ken Allen
“All those in favor of giving themselves a 50 percent pay raise say ‘Aye.’ ”
Who knew it could be that easy to increase your salary $20,000-plus?
Atlanta City Council members did just that Dec. 3. Well, 10 council members voted favorably and four (Natalyn Archibong, Keisha Lance Bottoms, Kwanza Hall and C.T. Martin) had the integrity to say “No.” I would like to commend those four for remaining committed to the financial recovery of Atlanta, and the partnership with employees.
Several council members have been trying in the media to justify this absurd pay increase. “We are overworked.” “We have not received any pay increase in several years.” “We are undercompensated.” “We deserve a pay raise.”
Doesn’t this sound familiar?
Perhaps the council members have heard this repeated year after year. Every union leader who represents city employees has stressed the identical message and provided facts to support our claims. We, however, have been told the city’s finances cannot support the pay increases. Atlanta police officers and other city employees had to settle for a few minor salary advances, offset by increases in medical and pension contributions. We understand the fiscal challenges being faced by the city. We continue to provide the citizens of Atlanta quality services.
Now enters the Elected Officials Compensation Commission report, which recommends an annual cost of living increase from 2006 to 2012, a total of $5,827 plus an added $15,000 that is justified as a “better reflection of the current level of commitment and service of the members of the City Council, who are extremely dedicated to their constituents and community.”
As president of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers Local 623, I regularly work with council members. They are dedicated. They make sacrifices. They are underpaid for their service. Yes, underpaid! Equally underpaid!
The EOCC report used comparison cities to support its recommendations. Several of these cities have long been recommended by the IBPO to be used as a comparison for police salary increases. In the past, council members did not give any consideration to the suggested comparisons, saying salary comparisons need to reflect local market value.
I have not heard a single council member suggest their recommended salary increases should reflect the local market. Does this mean the EOCC report cities are now open for future use for police salaries?
A wise man once said: “With great power comes great responsibility.” How is it possible that council members believe it is a responsible act for them to use their power to vote themselves such a significant pay raise, knowing that they would never vote for an equal increase for city employees?
Ken Allen is president of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers Local 623.
Council pay raise too long-deferred
By Gordon Certain
Atlanta’s City Council recently voted itself a long-deferred pay raise starting in 2014. I support that action.
I’ve been president of my neighborhood association for a dozen years. With more than 8,000 residents, my North Buckhead neighborhood is a microcosm of the challenges that high-density redevelopment brings to a mature neighborhood. I retired from Lockheed-Martin, having managed the business management systems department, employing several dozen project management, budgeting and information technology specialists.
My neighborhood frequently interacts with city government. I have spent many hours with Atlanta City Council members; they are usually the right people to see first. Since I learned what they were paid, I wondered why anyone took the job.
Council members work full time, but not in the 9-to-5 sense. They attend weekly meetings, keep office hours, supervise staff, attend evening neighborhood meetings, and represent Atlanta. They write legislation for a big city, the airport and the water company.
Some might say: “That’s why they get the big bucks.” But the bucks aren’t that big: $39,473 per year. The EOCC (explained below) reports City Council work weeks as long as 60 hours. So members may make as little as $13 an hour. Some have second jobs; if so, they sure need tolerant bosses.
But that’s just part of the picture. Catastrophes have happened in the past because we didn’t have the right people on the council. Examples: Overly generous pensions that had to be rolled back, but not before costing taxpayers millions and devastating employee morale; $100 million plus in “surpluses” that were improperly loaned from watershed management to the general fund and must be paid back over a decade with interest. While initiated by the former city administration, these problems were not adequately checked/balanced by the City Council.
CPAs who recently joined the City Council will help avoid similar blunders. That’s an improvement but also an indication of our challenge. The city is a $1.5 billion-a-year enterprise. It needs to attract council members with backgrounds as diverse as human resources, engineering and information technology. The higher pay the council approved will help attract needed expertise.
These pay raises were formulated by the Elected Office Compensation Commission, not the City Council. The EOCC gathered statistics for salaries and scope of operations for 12 comparable cities, ranging from Boston to Washington, D.C. They found our City Council pay was below average.
The EOCC recommended 53 percent pay increases, to $60,300 annually, to recognize that serving on the City Council is a full-time job, and because members have received no cost-of-living increases since 2006. Yet even after the increase, Atlanta’s council members in 2014 will get only about half of what counterparts in Seattle and Washington, D.C., are paid today.
This pay increase recognizes the full-time nature of a City Council job. It sets the stage to recruit and retain council members with backgrounds needed to avoid the crises that have challenged us in the past.
Gordon Certain is president of the North Buckhead Civic Association.