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

November 18th, 2009
Councilmembers approve compensation

council111709San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz (left), Councilmember Fred Terry (center) and Councilmember John Thomaides (right) discuss city council pay. Photo by Sean Batura.

By SEAN BATURA
News Reporter

The offices of San Marcos city councilmember and mayor are now paid positions after a Tuesday night vote of the city council.

The council voted, 5-2, on second reading to add a new ordinance setting mayor’s pay at $750 per month and regular councilmembers’ salaries at $500 per month. The new ordinance gives the mayor and regular councilmembers the option to accept the pay as compensation, add it to their reimbursable expense accounts, or refrain from accepting the money.

Councilmembers can receive up to $12,000 per year for expense reimbursements, while the mayor can claim $16,000.

Councilmembers John Thomaides and Kim Porterfield cast the only votes against the ordinance Tuesday night. Councilmembers Gaylord Bose, Pam Couch, Chris Jones, Fred Terry and Mayor Susan Narvaiz voted in favor of the ordinance.

In November 2008, city voters gave 80.28 percent approval to a non-binding charter amendment “to provide that city council compensation shall be set in a public forum by ordinance of the city council,” in the ballot’s language.

Tuesday’s vote on the council compensation ordinance constituted the last of four votes the council has taken on the issue, the first of which occurred on June 16, when the council voted down compensation. The council approved the ordinance on Oct. 20, on first reading, then voted to table the item on Nov. 2.

“I’m not going to take any compensation,” said Narvaiz after the Tuesday meeting. “But we’ve talked about this for a number of years, and the importance that some people in the community – they just can’t afford to step up and do these positions. And it’s a struggle for me. I’m a working class family. But now whoever runs after this, they would be voted in knowing this was in place, and I feel that that’s appropriate for me. So I won’t be taking the extra compensation. But I wanted to make sure there was a review process implemented before I would even support putting it into effect so some of my colleagues who wish to draw it can.”

The council’s Tuesday vote on compensation occurred after 9:45 p.m., when there were about three people in the audience, including a member of the press. Only Narvaiz and Porterfield explained their reasoning for their impending votes.

Before the vote, Narvaiz said her support of the ordinance was contingent on the council’s vote in favor of a workshop in the next four months to set a quarterly review process to allow for some oversight of the new practice. Before the vote, Porterfield voiced her opposition to the ordinance.

“I agree with the (quarterly survey) amendment but I still can’t support this, because I think it’s too much and not a good time, and for all the reasons I’ve said before,” Porterfield said.

At the June 16 meeting, Jones and Terry voted to approve the measure, while Narvaiz, Porterfield, Thomaides, and Bose voted in opposition. Couch was not present at that meeting.

On Oct. 20, Bose, Couch, Jones and Terry voted for the ordinance, while Porterfield, Thomaides and Narvaiz voted against it. Before the October vote, Narvaiz advised her colleagues that she would vote against the ordinance unless it took an amendment allowing for what she called “third party review” and “oversight” of council reimbursement and travel expenses.

At the Nov. 2 meeting, Terry and Couch cast the only votes against tabling the ordinance. Jones, before making the motion to table the item, said the issue had become “too political.” Jones said the council should hold off on voting until after the election, when the ordinance’s merits could be deliberated without being “influenced by politics.”

When asked after Tuesday’s meeting why he voted for the council compensation ordinance, Terry replied, “Why did I vote for it? Why did I vote for it? Why not? I mean, the citizens voted for us to compensate ourselves a year ago, and this is what we’ve been working on for this period of time.”

Terry said later that the purpose of the compensation is to allow residents to run for office who would otherwise be unable to do so for financial reasons. Terry said it is easier for retired people and business owners to sit on the council than “the general population,” who he said “needs to be compensated” for the time they put into council business. Terry said he has not decided whether he will accept compensation.

“Why did I vote for it?” Bose said after Tuesday’s meeting. “Because a large number of people, before it came up on the (ballot), came to me and said, ‘Hey, you guys deserve it, you spend a lot of time there, and the people voted for it by an overwhelming majority. I’ve fulfilled the request of the people now (to) keep it all within reason. Not a lot of people realize how much time … a meeting once every two weeks, that’s just part of it. There’s a whole lot of other meetings that go on, and I want to see a lot of other people that maybe haven’t got the means, that can step forward and be good citizens, and be involved in city council.”

Bose said he would take the compensation.

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0 thoughts on “Councilmembers approve compensation

  1. This compensation is meant to attract those who could not ordinarily afford to serve. One would assume that does not include the mayor or any of the current council members.

    It would be nice to see those who do not need the money, donate it to the Hays County Food Bank or some other local charity. That money could do a lot of good for some of the less fortunate residents of San Marcos.

  2. I’m sure “those who can’t afford to run” appreciate the amount per month/hour the Council has allocated itself, given the huge effort that goes into making the meetings and ceremonies and preparing to discuss the issues in the public forum. I hope the Council will do justice to it, now that it is done, and that nobody forgets this is taxable income–even when styled as “reimbursement,” which also requires strict accounting. After all, it has to be reimbursement for something tangibly spent first.

  3. A small stipend can really help democracy. I could see scenarios where it could help a single parent pay for the extra childcare necessary to attend City events. $500 isn’t going to change anyone’s life but I think it will make public service just a bit more attainable to all citizens. And kudos to the council members who feel they don’t need the extra help and refuse it.

  4. Proposition 5 from the November 4, 2008 election was a stunning example in 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.”

    If a voter did not find out for themselves before voting, then they might have thought 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.

    Voters defeated a similar proposition in 2006, but that is because in 2006 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, economic times are much more challenging for many of the citizens of San Marcos than it was in 2006.

    Proposition 5 as approved in the November 4, 2008 election ded not require the City Council to start paying themselves any compensation. They could choose to pay zero dollars compensation at present. But, because of the proposition that passed, they now decide when and how much to pay themselves.

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