The question of whether members of San Antonio City Council should be paid a professional salary has come roaring back into the public eye, when former Mayor Julian Castro, suggested in his farewell remarks to Council on Tuesday, that the city should consider 'fair compensation' for council for all of the work that council members do, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
"They deserve, very honestly, to be compensated fairly for what they do," Castro said.
David Crockett, who observes local government as a political analyst at Trinity University, says there is no doubt that the current council pay of $20 a week, which was set when the current City Charter was adopted in 1952, does prevent many good potential candidates from seeking council seats.
"When you consider the job they are doing, you would consider the amount that they are paid for running a city of over a million people insulting," Crockett said.
The issue of paying City Council members has always been controversial, because it looks like a 'money grab' by council. Even when current council members would not be affected by a salary, voters have routinely rejected efforts to pay council members a salary.
Currently, City Council is made up largely of people who own their own business, like Shirley Gonzales and Joe Krier, people who are fortunate enough to have a spouse who makes enough money to support the family, like Ron Nirenberg, attorneys like Diego Bernal who can continue to do legal work, and retirees like Mike Gallagher.
Supporters of council pay say it damages a council's ability to relate to their constituents when few if any council members are in the position of the average citizen, working for an employer for a salary or wage.
"There are a lot of people who might serve quite adequately on City Council, but they don't consider it an option because they can't live on that pay," Crockett said.
Other big city councils in Texas pay their members a generous wage. Austin Council members, for example, make $67,000 a year. Dallas Council members make $37,000.
Opponents of increasing the pay of City Council members in San Antonio point out that qualified individuals are still running for council, and there is no case of a council seat ever going empty for lack of interested candidates. More than a dozen people, for example, applied to council for the appointment to succeed Elisa Chan as north side council representative, a post that went to Krier, and four people challenged Krier in the general election in May, going to the effort to raise money, mount campaigns, and buy signs and fliers to win a seat that pays $20 a week.
Ironically, the people who work for City Council and consider council members to be their boss are handsomely compensated. City Manager Sheryl Sculley, who was hired by and works for council, makes nearly $400,000 a year, while the Police and Fire Chiefs make more than $170,000 a year.
In fact, San Antonio has dozens of employees, including nine deputy or assistant city managers, who make in excess of $175,000 a year. Deputy Police and Fire Chiefs generally pull down a salary in excess of $135,000. The average salary of a private sector worker in San Antonio is about $41,000 a year.