The move by the Aberdeen City Council last week to send to committee for review a proposal for substantial raises for the mayor and council members is the first sensible action the city council has taken with regard to the pay raise issue.
The next logical step in this process will be for the proposal to die in committee.
The council had been poised to enact legislation that would have increased the annual salary of the mayor from $10,000 to $24,000, and the council salaries from $7,500 to $12,000 a year.
Council members failed to make the case for such a substantial pay increase for a job that historically has been taken on as more of a community service position than as a career move. No justification was offered for more than doubling the mayor's rate of pay and a comparable increase in what would have been paid to the council members after the next city election.
Councilman Bruce Garner made the closest thing to a good point in favor of the raises when he said the rate of pay needs to be such that more professional people with business and management backgrounds are attracted to run for city office.
Nice try, but $24,000 a year to manage a city is hardly CEO pay.
Moreover, the case has yet to be made that a city of Aberdeen's size needs a leader who has CEO-type experience. If it did, and arguably New York City needs such a leader, there's a good chance the level of pay will never be comparable to what CEOs bring home in the private sector. The New York City example holds here: Mayor Michael Bloomberg was worth billions of dollars before he ran for the job, and his earnings as mayor pale compared to his likely personal portfolio earnings in even a bad year.
The bottom line is any candidate for public office who is running primarily because of the personal finance bottom line is someone who probably isn't deserving of a vote.
Councilwoman Sandra Landbeck tried to make the argument that cost of living increases compounded annually since the last round of elected official pay raises in Aberdeen constituted a reasonable way of determining how much city elected officials should be paid. Her argument doesn't seem firmly rooted in reality.
Pay rates for small town and city elected officials have never been tied to pay scales of civil service employees. On the federal level, unfortunately, upward pay adjustments for members of Congress typically are tied to those afforded to federal employees. The result has been members of Congress no longer have to vote to give themselves pay raises, they kick in automatically.
This, of course, leaves the opening for the joke that members of Congress receive pay raises by taking no action, which is fitting enough because they get paid for doing nothing anyway.
In this country, the electorate has a healthy skepticism about the motivations behind paying elected officials. A balance needs to be struck so that people from a variety of backgrounds can have the opportunity to be elected to public office without facing financial ruin.
When pay increases for elected officials are proposed, a good case needs to be made for enacting them. In Aberdeen, that case has yet to be made.