My View: An open letter to Alexandria City Council

My View: An open letter to Alexandria City Council

By Denise Dunbar

Dear Mayor Allison Silberberg and city councilors:

I hope you all have had a fun and restful summer. You deserved a break from the relentless demands of your elected offices. In fact, those demands are what I’m writing about.

This may sound odd coming from me, because I have a well-deserved reputation for being tight with a dollar, but here goes: You all need to vote to give yourselves a serious pay raise. But do it now, not in the way you floated last November, in a lame duck session immediately following a local election.

No, this needs to be completely above board. As you know, if you approve a raise now, it wouldn’t take effect until after the next election for mayor and council in 2018. So, this raise might affect all seven of you — or, though unlikely, it might impact none of you. By voting on such a measure now, your action would not be self-serving. Rather, it would be correcting something that has long needed fixing.

I like to crunch numbers, and the numbers in this argument are staggeringly in your favor. It’s amazing that in a city the size of Alexandria, with the demands that are placed on your time, the mayor only makes $30,500 per year, and council members only receive $27,500. People sometimes say that a mayor and council salary hike would be wrong because yours are supposed to be part-time jobs.

But, herein lies the rub: your elected positions simply aren’t part time. If you do your jobs in the way the community expects, there’s no way to limit your commitment to 20 hours a week. As publisher of the Times, I see you in the community on a regular basis, attending event after event. I see the almost crushing number of legislative sessions and public hearings that you not only must attend, but also prepare for. And I know that you all serve on numerous additional city and regional commissions and boards, which all take prep work as well as your time to attend.

Alexandria deserves first-rate governance. But it’s unfair to require you to put in huge chunks of time without adequate compensation. Here are some more interesting numbers: $265,200; $247,072 and $185,000. You may recognize those as the fiscal 2017 salaries of City Manager Mark Jinks, City Attorney Jim Banks and the average salaries of deputy city managers Emily Baker, Debra Collins and Laura Triggs. These are all fulltime positions.

But I would wager that Mayor Silberberg works as many hours per week as anyone on this list of fulltime staff — as did her predecessor. Our mayor is constantly in the community, representing and leading the city, yet is paid roughly one ninth as much as the city manager, and one sixth as much as one of his deputies. That’s simply wrong.

Here are two more interesting numbers, $60,000 and $31,411. I’m sure you recognize these as the salaries of your aides. The first number is the maximum salary of the mayoral aide, which is recognized as a fulltime position, while the second is the average salary of part-time council aides. I find it ridiculous that aides should make more than the elected officials they serve, and that the position of mayoral aide is expected to be fulltime, but that of mayor itself is not.

I believe in fairness, both to you and to our city. Alexandria deserves to have elected officials who do not need to be independently wealthy to run for office. If you’re not independently wealthy and are working the hours these posts require, then you’re financially sacrificing way more than is right to expect.

I would suggest, as a starting point, that you should be making at least 50 percent more than your aides. That would be $47,117 for council members and $90,000 for the mayor. These raises would add around $180,000 per year to the city’s budget, which for fiscal 2017 is $678.5 million, or less than three hundredths of one percent. In other words, it would be a very small drop in a very large bucket.

So, go ahead and have the courage to vote a one-time raise for council and the mayor that will take effect after the 2018 election. I will publicly support you. So will many others.

The writer is the publisher of the Alexandria Times.