Despite a full agenda Monday evening, with four legislative items, a budget amendment and three presentations, members of the Aberdeen City Council and Mayor Mike Bennett felt compelled to respond to mounting criticism of the proposed salary increase for their offices.
The controversial plan would raise the mayor's pay from $10,000 a year to $24,000 and the four council members' pay from $7,500 to $12,000, effective after the next town election in 2015.
"If misinformation is going on out there, I really would like to let you know it's misinformation, and there was some misinformation that was given to many people," Councilwoman Sandra Landbeck said. "It even made its way into the local paper."
Landbeck took issue with the salary increase for the mayor being framed as an increase of 140 percent, explaining that the increase was modeled after the federal government's pay scale, with an incremental 3.1 percent increase each year since 1993, the last time the salaries were changed.
"It's just you were given a number and you believed it rather than standing back and saying 'this doesn't make any sense,' " Landbeck said, referring to comments made at the council's last session on May 20. "Unfortunately, however you were given the increase of 140 percent was either by someone who could not do sixth grade math or really just didn't get the logic."
"If I go apply for a job, I don't have to start at what the pay was in 1993," Landbeck added. "I get what the pay is now, and that pay got to where it is now by increasing it by 3.1 percent each year."
"That's what we were asking for," Landbeck said. "It's not outrageous if you look at it in that way."
The council did not act on the salary increase at Monday's meeting and is expected to discuss the issue again when it meets in a work session at City Hall this Monday at 4 p.m. That meeting is open to the public; however, public comment is not usually accepted by the council during work session.
Landbeck said that some previous comments about the council were undeserved.
"We were accused of being felons. We were accused of being like those dirty people in Washington, D.C.," Landbeck said. "We have to look you in the face every single day. Trust me, we are not felons and we are not out to rob you."
Councilman Bruce Garner took offense at being characterized as supporting the increase in The Record.
"For the record, Record, I am going to make an endorsement tonight, and I do endorse everything that councilwoman Landbeck said," Garner said in a brief statement, drawing chuckles from the audience.
Bennett also weighed in on the public reaction to the proposed increase, saying that some criticism went too far.
"We try not to take comments that come to us in this public forum in a personal manner," Bennett said. "We know that people are coming in and being upset. It seemed like the comments that were directed at us were being taken in a very personal manner at us."
"All of the people sitting up here have distinguished themselves in the community; have worked hard in the community," Bennett added. "So it's very disheartening for us to stand here and listen to that."
Bennett stressed that the increases are for future mayors and council members, not for the current mayor's and council's personal gain.
"This is not us trying to make ourselves well off or anything like that. It's nothing of the sort," Bennett said. "It would only be for us if we decided to run for election, but this is for the new folks that are coming on in 2015, whoever they may be. "
"We live and work in this community. We mow our lawns, we pay taxes; we do all the things that you do. Maybe think about that the next time," Bennett said. "We try to give you courtesy, so I'm asking that the public try to give us a little bit of courtesy when they're up here talking to us."