Sitting on the Pensacola City Council just got a little sweeter. Fifty-three percent sweeter, following council members approving a pay increase for themselves.
The $7,500 raise, bringing a councilperson’s annual compensation to $21,500, was framed by its sponsor Councilman Larry B. Johnson as a nod to potentially low-income candidates who might want to run for the local office.
“I really believe that this low salary really discriminates against many people who want to serve on city council,” Johnson said. “I hear stories of people who want to serve but just can’t make the numbers work.”
City Council President Charles Bare and Councilwoman Sherri Myers were the only two members to vote against the raise. Councilman Brian Spencer was absent for the vote, having left the meeting.
Bare said that he didn’t feel comfortable jacking council’s pay by 53 percent. He cited the facts that the council has cut back on the number of meetings it holds, and also has less responsibility under the mayor-council form of government, where the executive branch has taken on more duties.
“As a citizen, I have a problem with that,” Bare said.
Myers contended that a long dormant task should have assessed the issue of council pay, and said she didn’t buy Johnson’s rationale.
“I don’t know how to say this tactfully — I did not take this job for the money and I do not feel like I need it,” Myers said. “And I don’t think an increase is going to improve the performance of city council.”
The councilwoman said she might could support a pay increase if the number of council members were reduced and the remaining office holders were given full time status. Councilman Andy Terhaar agreed.
“I hope this is a first step toward a charter amendment that reduces this council and increases its pay quite a bit,” Terhaar said, adding that he had “a feeling that Councilman Johnson is going to bring that up fairly soon, hopefully.”
Terhaar said that council did in fact have a heavy load and time commitment. He estimated council pay currently amounted to $3 an hour.
“We think we meet once a month, and that’s very, very not true. There’s lots of stuff that happens,” Terhaar said, thanking Johnson for initiating the raise. “It takes guts to do this and I hope it’s a stepping stone to something bigger.”
Johnson described the issue as “a really touchy subject” and agreed that the perception that council only meets once a month was “absolutely absurd, and I think, irresponsible.” He pegged the average at six or seven engagements a month.
“I think what we have, we discriminate against low income people,” Johnson said. “It’s not about the money, I think it’s about getting more people involved, making the numbers work for more citizens out there.”
Bare said that he had also crunched the numbers. Calculating time spent at council agenda sessions, regular meetings and workshops — and allowing that he wasn’t considering time spent researching issues — he placed council’s hourly pay at $109.28.
“If you throw in the CRA, it was $100.78 per hour,” Bare said, adding that under the new pay increase that number would be at $167 an hour.
“Council members have less responsibility than ever,” the president said.
Though he voted against the measure, Bare — or at least the president’s seat — will benefit the most from the increase. Prior to passing the ordinance that formalized the raise, Councilman Gerald Wingate tacked on an amendment upping the president’s compensation a bit more, to $28,500.