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Raises in Aberdeen not justified [Editorial]

In voting to give themselves (or whoever replaces them in November 2015) a raise, the mayor and three members of the Aberdeen City Council made a drastic mistake.

They should have either rejected the legislation increasing their annual pay from $10,000 to $15,000 for the mayor and from $7,500 to $10,000 for council members, or they should have increased the rate of pay for elected officials to the level of full time salary with benefits.

For more than a year, Mayor Mike Bennett and council members Sandy Landbeck, Bruce Garner and Ruth Ann Young have been making the argument that a pay increase is needed because the job is so demanding.

The level of the raises approved, though fairly astronomical in terms of percentage, is rather paltry in real numbers. The total annual pay for the city's five elected officials after the next city election will be $55,000, up from the current $40,000.

Realistically speaking, the job of mayor is no more or less attractive to potential candidates at $10,000 a year or $15,000 a year. It's a tough job to get and your contract is up for renewal every four years, and the bosses doing the evaluation are the ever fickle electorate.

If the mayor and city council really had an interest in making the job appealing from a financial standpoint, the more appropriate salaries would have been more along the lines of $65,000 for mayor and $40,000 for council.

That's a level of pay generally associated with full time mid level management jobs, and in government, splitting the management of a city the size of Aberdeen five ways pretty much falls into that category.

But people generally don't run for office because of the financial benefits. It's worth noting that the sole dissenter who voted against the raises was Councilwoman Ruth Elliott, who has served in elected office in the city longer than any of the two next most tenured elected officials in Aberdeen, both on the city council, the old town commissioner board and as the city's first elected mayor.

Elliott kept mum in voting against the raises, but she has made it clear in the past during debates leading to this week's vote that she didn't think a salary increase for elected officials was warranted.

Though it could be argued that if the city had an interest in paying for full time elected officials, the council would have done better to go whole hog and increase the salaries to full time levels, we're inclined to believe no increase whatsoever was justified.

Indeed, it is easier to make an argument for a major increase, or complete elimination of salaries for the city's part-time elected officials than it is to find real logic in the decision to increase the level of pay by a few thousand dollars divided among five people.

It's hardly enough money to make anyone want to pursue a job that subjects them to frequent public linguistic lashings like this one, or complaints from neighbors and friends during every social gathering or trip to the grocery store.

In short, people don't run for jobs like mayor or council in a community of Aberdeen's size because they're looking for a well-paying job, or the glory of being in high office. Generally – and this certainly extends to the people who just voted to give themselves or their successors a raise – they run because they're interested in doing some good for their community.

They'd do well to take a lesson from the oath taken by new physicians to first do no harm.

It remains to be seen how the people in charge of managing the mayor and three council members will react to the higher salaries. Come the fall of 2015, those raises are likely to become fodder for the campaign trail in Aberdeen. Who knows, maybe a new group will be elected on a platform of repealing the raises, and they'll never end up taking effect anyway.

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