Mayor’s salary decreased
Experience should determine salary
Mayor Jackie Crabtree opened the June City Council meeting then turned the meeting over to City Clerk Sandy Button and stepped out of the room as the four council members discussed Ordinance 618 to set the mayor’s salary for the coming term. This is an election year and the mayor’s seat is open for election.
“We have an ordinance on the books that says we’ll set the mayor’s salary in an election year,” Button said. “I’ve prepared the ordinance as we have every four years. It will start Jan. 1, 2019, and run through Dec. 31, 2022.
“This is the third time we’ve done this … because you don’t know the experience of the person who might run for the job,” Button reminded council
members. “In January, you can go back in and reevaluate the person and the experience of the person who does get the job and you can amend for what would be appropriate for the person.”
Council member Bob Cottingham, who supported reducing the mayor’s salary in 2014, said: “I have researched this. This has been a really hot button. I’ve gotten lots of feedback from citizens and business owners.
“It definitely gives the impression of discouraging anyone from running,” Cottingham said, adding that he had talked to staff in the legal department of the Arkansas Municipal League who told him that although it is not illegal, it is “ill advised.”
Button responded: “This was recommended to us by our city attorney at the time.
“This is not set in stone, this council will have the final say in January or December when you decide to amend. When you hire somebody, you set their salary by their experience, their education,” she said.
Council member Lance Sanders added: “Every business runs that way. You need a base salary to start out.”
“It’s up to the voters to decide,” Cottingham said.
“It’s up to the City Council to decide,” Sanders said.
“You have to understand,” Button told council members, “originally, this ordinance was done in August, which was after the people had filed to run, which was not, i don’t believe, … fair. Which was why it was changed to say we would do it in June. I’ve left this blank; in the past it’s been $25,000.
“It’s being fair to the people that are going to run… it can change in January,” she said.
Cottingham said that from his research, the only person who could reduce the mayor’s salary was the mayor.
“We are not reducing Jackie’s salary,” Button said. “It’s not being reduced. It’s being set for the new term.”
“We wouldn’t replace either one of these guys at the same rate,” council member Steve Guthrie said, pointing to city department heads.
“I’ve heard from a lot, a lot of people this was designed to eliminate any competition for the incumbent,” Cottingham said. “I was an advocate, for sure. That works great in corporate world, but not for elected officials.
“If I ran for president, I would start at the current salary,” Cottingham continued.
“I would agree it doesn’t strike me as illegal because the council has power to set the salary for the next year’s office,” city attorney Shane Perry said, responding to Cottingham’s query for advice. “And that’s common that it happens in different municipalities.
“I really consider this a legislative issue… I agree with you that this has political aspects to it.
“It sounds like you’re hearing from some of your constituents about it, so my advice to council, it doesn’t sound illegal… but I do think it is a legislative issue and have to defer to you in how you use your legislative powers,” Perry said.
Guthrie said that if someone is elected as mayor who has no skills, the council may have to hire someone to assist, thereby costing more money to the city.
“I think the council is overstepping what the Municipal League has already dictated,” Cottingham said. “It’s sending out negative vibrations to the constituents and voting public that this is all set up to be sure there’s no competition.”
“What the mayor is making is too high for someone who is not trained,” Guthrie said.
After lengthy discussion, council member Ray Easley made a motion to set the salary at $30,000. Sanders seconded the motion.
Council members Easley, Guthrie and Sanders voted to approve the ordinance. Cottingham voted against it. The ordinance was approved.
“I think we’re going to have a firestorm and rightfully so,” Cottingham said.
“But we as a City Council can change that dollar figure when someone is elected based on their experience,” Sanders said. “And I don’t think it’s fair to the people of our city… they get elected and have no experience.”
“I have tread that same thought,” Cottingham said, “however it has to be fair … a good living wage.”
“For the record, I am totally against this,” Cottingham said.