North Charleston city officials must figure that no qualified candidates are willing to serve as mayor or City Council members, since they are poised to increase pay for those positions by nearly 13%.
Either that, or they’re just not concerned about appearing greedy.
As The Post and Courier's Rickey Ciapha Dennis Jr. reported, City Council has voted to raise the mayor's salary by 12.6% to $218,310, while City Council’s salary would increase by the same percentage, from $20,657 to $23,260 a year. If given final approval next month (which we hope won’t happen), the pay raises would take effect in January, as a mayor and 10 City Council members are sworn in to new four-year terms.
We agree with City Councilman Ron Brinson, who voted against the raises because, in his words, “with all that’s going on in the economy, it’s just not a good look” and “It’s untimely.”
The main legitimate reason to raise pay is to attract qualified applicants, but unless you think the current officials are all incompetent, that wasn’t a problem four years ago. And although filing for this year’s municipal election is still many months away, based on the political talk we’ve heard recently, we don’t expect it to be this year, either. At least six names have been floated as potential candidates in the mayoral race alone.
The pay raise proposal came after Management Advisory Group was hired to analyze the salaries of the mayor, City Council and employees; it is unsurprising that it found that the people who hired it to analyze their salaries needed higher salaries.
We might be more supportive of the pay raise if City Council bothered to change the city’s election law to ensure that whoever wins this November municipal elections will enter office with majority support from those who turn out to vote. Instead, whoever gets the most votes on Nov. 7 will win period, even if that includes candidates who receive only 20% of the vote. Or less.
We repeat our call for City Council to institute a runoff system in which the top two vote-getters would face each other on Nov. 21 if no one gets more than 50% of the vote on Election Day, and we urge state lawmakers to change state law so cities have the option to implement a ranked-choice voting method, which is designed to ensure the same result (a winner with a base of support of at least 50%) without the cost or bother of a runoff election.
If City Council approves these pay raises next month, then it would ensure that North Charleston’s next mayor is the highest paid in the state while doing absolutely nothing to prevent that person from being an inexperienced, fringe figure with little to no institutional knowledge of how city government actually works and potentially less public support.
If anything, it would make sense for City Council to lower the mayor’s pay beginning next year if Mayor Keith Summey announces, as many expect him to, that he will not seek another term.
And instead of raising their own pay, City Council members would be better served working on a more serious problem affecting North Charleston and local governments across the country: filling vital vacant positions in the police, fire, public works and other departments and taking steps to try to retain police officers, firefighters and other employees who make the city function day in and day out. The steady attrition of state and local government employees both here and across the country has been been called a little-noticed, slow-moving crisis.
To the extent that North Charleston City Council members believe they have the financial flexibility to raise pay, that’s where their attention should be.
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