San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

October 22nd, 2009
Council gives first nod to compensation

The San Marcos City Council voted on its own compensation Tuesday night. Photo by Andy Sevilla.

Associate Editor

The San Marcos City Council approved the first of two readings for council compensation Tuesday night in a 4-3 vote.

After citizens gave council the go-ahead to set compensation in the November 2008 election, councilmembers settled this summer on $750 per month for the mayor and $500 per month for councilmembers before sending the proposal back to city staff.

The matter came to vote less than two weeks before a Nov. 3 city council election with two seats at stake.

Voting in favor of the compensation were Councilmembers Gaylord Bose, Pam Couch, Chris Jones and Fred Terry. Voting in opposition were Councilmembers Kim Porterfield and John Thomaides, along with Mayor Susan Narvaiz.

Thomaides, who is running for re-election against challengers Monica Garcia and Anita Fuller, said at Monday night’s League of Women Voters debate that he would vote against council compensation.

Narvaiz said during Tuesday during the council’s compensation discussion that Thomaides had offered the $500 and $750 figures for consideration in a May 21 council compensation discussion.

Thomaides, in an effort to clear the record, said he offered those numbers only after the proposed figures by Narvaiz, of $12,000 per year for councilmembers and $24,000 per year for the mayor, “were too much.”

Narvaiz said the discussion had to be financially elevated so that it could be worked down during the discussion. She said the figures she proposed were high, but were brought about by surveying comparable and surrounding cities.

In the May 21 discussion, Thomaides originally proposed a stipend of $200 per meeting. He said he didn’t want to greatly surpass a measure rejected by San Marcos voters in 2006, calling for council compensation at $100 per meeting, not to exceed $300 per month.

“We did start at a higher point, and we all agreed on the figures before us for consideration,” Narvaiz said.

Narvaiz was the first to caution councilmembers that if an amendment urging for “third party review” and “oversight” of council reimbursement and travel expenses were not added to the ordinance, she would have to go against it. Narvaiz proposed that council reimbursements and travel expense reports should undergo review by the city’s finance and audit committee quarterly in efforts towards transparency. Narvaiz is the chair of the city’s finance and audit committee.

“I do not have a problem with another set of eyes and checks and balances looking into these numbers,” Couch said.

Jones was perhaps the most vocal opposition to Narvaiz’ proposed amendment. He said he “recognize(d)” and “appreciate(d)” Narvaiz’ concern for transparency, but, added that “from the issue of how things are structured, city staff is given enough direction in ordinance” on which expenditures are reimbursable. Therefore, he said, an added “burden” for review is not necessary for the finance and audit committee.

“I’m also opposed to the additional reviews,” Thomaides said, adding that reimbursable expenditures are “pretty clear cut.”

Said Thomaides, “I trust my colleagues and I trust the citizens. If you want to see my reports, you’re more than welcomed to. A simple call to City Hall can get you them.”

Said Narvaiz, “It’s just another process that tells the public we’re accountable.”

Bose said honesty is key.

“They voted for us because they trust us,” Bose said.

In a June meeting, councilmembers voted down compensation in a 4-2 tally. Jones and Terry voted to approve the measure, while Narvaiz, Porterfield, Thomaides, and Bose voted in opposition. Couch was not present at that meeting, nor to the council compensation discussion in May.

“Good people will serve without pay,” Bose said in the June council meeting before voting against compensation. “But if it’s necessary, I agree with (compensation), but we need to have more discussion.”

Jones and Terry have been in support of council pay since its first discussion. Porterfield has opposed compensation because of the local ripples felt from the national economic crisis, though, she has said she understands the reasons for remuneration. Like Porterfield, Narvaiz and Thomaides voted against the measure in June, citing the economic downtrend.

Current policy affords the city’s legislators expense reimbursements of $12,000 per year for councilmembers and $16,000 per year for the mayor.

The proposed legislation that passed on first reading Tuesday will come up for a second vote. The ordinance allows councilmembers and the mayor to accept the funds, add them to their expense stipends, or decline the funds.

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0 thoughts on “Council gives first nod to compensation

  1. If our local government leadership really wants to improve transparency, then they should not place vague amendments to the City Charter on the ballot. Proposition 5 from the November 4, 2008 election is a stunning example of lack of transparency. Here is what it said:

    “The amendment of Section 3.04 of the City Charter to provide that city council compensation shall be set in a public forum by ordinance of the city council.”

    No additional clarification of the proposed amendment, just that sentence. If a voter did not dig deeper, they might think this simply represented an improvement to an existing process, that perhaps council compensation was currently being set in a private forum, maybe not even coming up for public vote or awareness.

    The language to Proposition 5 should have clarified the “from” and “to” elements, it should have made clear that a vote “Yes” means the voter is asking for a position currently unpaid to now become a paid position, and for the people who could be receiving the new compensation to be the same people who decide how much it should be.

    As noted, voters defeated a similar proposition in 2006, but that is because it was clear what they were saying “Yes” or “No” to, since the language of the amendment included specific numbers for compensation, $100 per meeting not to exceed $300 a month.

    And, given the economy is very different now in 2009 versus 2006, economic times are much more challenging for many of the citizens of San Marcos, it is my opinion that now is not the time for City Council to start paying themselves. Proposition 5 as approved in the November 4, 2008 election does not require the City Council to start paying themselves any compensation. They can choose to pay zero dollars compensation at present.

    Having said all of that, I do respect, acknowledge, and appreciate the significant amount of time our elected leaders invest in their attempts to help and positively contribute to the future of our fine community!

  2. Steve, good point. I’d even go so far as to say that the choices on the ballot ought to be between two clearly defined choices. Rather than ‘Do you want “X”, Yes or No?’ How about ‘Do you want “X,” or do you want “Y”?

  3. If Council’s voting records were maintained on the city website, with links from each line-item, to the corresponding agenda items and minutes, that would go a long way toward true transparency.

    Maybe its there already and I just don’t see it.

  4. FYI… Porterfield and Jones can NOT receive Council pay even if it is passed! Reason: they both draw salaries from state government jobs. Check the law. Or, see what recently went down in Buda with the Mayor and a Councilmember where same situation came up. Has the city attorney advised the city about this? Simple call to the AG’s office would also get the answer. FYI, I’m not against council pay nor against these two people getting paid. Just pointing out a fact. Perhaps Newsstream will do a followup article on this?

  5. Ted, if I’m not mistaken, the city’s website does indeed post more than just council members vote, it’s actually posted raw video, where you can not only see and hear the vote, but also the discussion. So in term of transparency, that can at least be said.

  6. Because of the several paths circling around potential conflicts of interest, including the quandary of State employees’ not being eligible for “compensation from more than one public source,” it is easy to favor the proposal of starting any direct compensation only after the terms of those who set the amounts to be allotted have expired.

    The present reimbursement system already delineates the terms of reimbursement allowable for personal expenses incurred pursuant to public duties, as opposed to “expenditures for personal benefit or private business.” All expenses, including those from campaign funds, are required to be documented regularly with receipts (wherever available) and explained for the public benefit and to assure legality.

    A major issue is whether the community wishes to begin “professionalizing” local officials, an idea which certainly has proved bittersweet where it is done in relatively small communities, not to mention at the metro, state and national levels. ‘Nuf sed on THAT boil on the nose of integrity.

    Plainly, however, serving as an elected official in a moderate-size town just ain’t a full time job, especially in a Manager/Council format, where the Mayor has only a few stated duties and no status or responsibility much greater than the other six. The City Manager is to “administrate,” and to carry out the policies set out by Council–they do the thinking, the Staff does the work.

  7. K. Johnson, I have had hit or miss success in finding minutes/video of old meetings and watching those videos and reading the minutes is not a very efficient way of seeing what a council member has voted for, or against.

    I’d just like to see a running list, from which I could navigate to agendas, minutes and videos, for more information.

  8. Something along these lines would be nice:

    www .

  9. Steve makes a great point. I hated the language because it said nothing — it was intentionally vague.
    While volunteer, these positions offer non-monetary rewards of exposure, prestige and advertising for members related endeavors. Some present and past members have seen a decided increase in their businesses after election. There is a value to the intrinsic benefits and it is likely more than this $500 proposal, which is why people are willig to run. Once compensation is introduced, we will have to have an argument over raises every year or two. Worse, we could get candidates who run for the money instead of for what they can contribute.

  10. Great discussion. Thanks for raising the tenor above “rapping” or “twittering.”

    Mr. Marchutt:

    It has in the past been custom to summarize discussion in any posted meeting, attributing remarks and questions to participants “as given,” then summarizing vote tallies by issue, with any justifications offered. This is perhaps the chief duty of the City Clerk (formerly “Secretary,” a subtle change).

    There is also to be either a full transcription or tape of conversations in Executive Sessions, which is held in a normally inaccessible archive, except by Council or Court Request–to preserve a level of confidentiality for things such as Appointed Personnel Evaluations and pay scales, negotiations with parties or pending Court actions.

    These are to be certifiable for use in Court proceedings or related purposes, by order or subpoena. The Clerk is the custodian of all such archives and other records such as campaign accounts, contributions, expenditures and balances, all of which can be had through any citizen’s Freedom of Public Information Request. If there is a will, the process of disclosure can be made maddeningly slow and cumbersome, in some cases even expensive.

    Because of their confidentiality, Executive Sessions have been used to camouflage items governing bodies just don’t want discussed “in front of God and everybody.” The least excuse is confidentiality for some party on request, however thin the need. The greatest abuse, in our time, is using the “one-size-fits-all” designation of “National Security,” which classifies the proceedings and any handy side discussion not “in the direct interest.”

    In the case of how any Member votes on one or more iterations of an issue, the ground may be tricky as well. An experienced Member with a bit of the demagogue in him may choose to 1)propose an agenda item or speak on an issue with the deliberate aim of making others show their cards and, finally, vote against it himself, for the sake of being able to cite a sterling record.

    In the case of a person more politician than public ser- vant, it is not wholly uncommon for a Member to “abstain”
    on an issue merely as a CYA move so as to lie in the middle and claim either “pro” or “con” sentiments, or both, as fits the purpose. Abstention, however, by the rule of parliamentary order, is treated as a formal vote which mus accompany a valid reason for casting aside the duty to vote on every issue.

    Ignorance of the issue is a handy, if slightly degrading way to justify, but often one gets away with much less, and can feel fairly surely the breach won’t be called to light. A sounder approach is to document a conflict of personal and magisterial interest: “I work for or with the entity being discussed, and might profit directly or indirectly from my own vote, or that perception may be there.” “I have access to inside information which is not being made public, and this may affect my strict impartiality.” I gather that SM has drifted into a rather less formal mode, so abstentions can be common and not particularly enforced.

    The best guise of all for the wily politico is to pre- determine that he/she really has sentiment, perhaps with the less popular or more popular approach to an issue, and to disguise that fact by observing which way the vote is likely, then voting opposite his/her true leaning. The record will then show that Member “X” was with OR against the Majority against this terrible decision, not the actual person who pushed it or benefited by it. This is most often how political favors, frauds, bribes, paybacks and unsuspecting-voter support figure in the mix. Just say one thing and do another–little sleight of hand. One must be there and watch the vote to catch this trick, and be on the other side of the vote to raise the issue aloud.

    I likes me a legislator who votes and states in clear, plain English how the vote is justified, FOR THE RECORD, which belongs to the people.

    The discussion is timely, since a seminar in voter fraud and betrayal plays out more vigorously in WDC every day.
    Very few of our leaders, it seems, have clean hands in the matter. It’s called “the old Capitol Two-Step.”

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