In their first meeting as a group on Monday afternoon, members of the Aberdeen Salary Task Force laid the groundwork, but didn't get into any philosophical discussions, for their assignment of studying a proposed salary increase for the city's future elected officials.
The committee appointed by Aberdeen Mayor Mike Bennett and made up of Louise Costello, Lance Hersh, Paul Tormey, Mark Schlottman, Bernard Backus, Ed Budnick and Pat Faircloth, sought to establish its scope and objective.
The meeting was informal, with committee members and City Manager Douglas Miller sitting in chairs in a circle in front of the council bench. Not a single member of the public was in attendance.
At the meeting's start, Mayor Mike Bennett told the task force that the council wants them to look at the ordinance originally proposed in late April that would have raised the mayor's salary from $10,000 per year to $24,000, and council member's salaries from $7,500 per year to $12,000, and would have taken effect in 2015.
After news of the ordinance met public opposition, the mayor and council decided not to vote on the ordinance and opted to establish the task force to study the increases. Bennett told the committee the ordinance would be left alone to expire after 60 days, leaving the issue wide open for the task force to deliberate.
Bennett said he and the council want the committee to come up with an advisory, non-binding report by end of August to be presented to the council to recommend what the city should do with the salaries of its elected officials.
Bennett reminded the committee members that any change in salary would affect the next elected council and not the sitting one.
"We can't give ourselves a raise. No politician in the United States except for Congress can votes themselves raises. I don't know how that works," Bennett said. "So it's not for the people in office right now. I think that's kind of gotten lost in the shuffle."
Before leaving to let the committee begin its discussion, Bennett told the committee's members to feel free to contact him or any council member for any information they might need, and wished them "good luck and Godspeed."
From there, City Manager Douglas Miller gave a brief explanation of the issue, noting it has been 16 years since the council's and mayor's salaries were set. Miller also stressed that the committee was an "ad-hoc committee of the city," and thus, their activities were open to the public, except for specific cases when they would have an executive session.
Miller told the committee that an issue he thinks might prove important in the committee's discussions is the effect of a cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA.
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"One of the reasons that I believe that the salaries that were thrown out had some resistance was the fact that the council did not provide for themselves a COLA," Miller said. "If salaries had been raised over time by the consumer price index, then I think everything would have been in proportion."
"Although we expect a lot of traction on this from the public, I think that most people are in agreement that something positive in an adjustment should be done," Backus said.
Miller suggested someone would need to take minutes at the meeting, and that he would be willing to fulfill that role and also would be willing to research any information the committee would need in its discussions and deliberations.
Hersh said the committee should find someone else to take minutes, as Miller already has duties as city manager. Miller agreed there was a "perception issue."
Throughout the course of the meeting, committee members suggested information to research, including what their charge was according to ordinances and statutes. Members also asked about the historical records regarding the council and mayor's pay in Aberdeen, and asked for copies of the officials' expenses.
Committee members also asked for copies of the expiring salary ordinance as well as the descriptions of the duties of the mayor and council in the town charter. Budnick asked about historical pay data regarding all city employees, which Miller said would be difficult but he would try to do.
At the end of the meeting, committee members agreed to meet on Mondays at 6 p.m.