Lubbock charter review committee recommends small pay rise for city council

The citizen-led charter review committee presented its final recommendations to Lubbock City Council on Tuesday, and now the council will determine which changes to the city’s charter can be put to a public vote.

Council members have their eyes set on a possible city charter election in November. But plans for chartered elections have failed to materialize before — even after a citizen-appointed committee met to make recommendations in the past, just as they do now.

The council appointed seven people to review the city charter in February. The charter is the governing document of the city and no changes can be made to it without a public vote. The committee has been asked to recommend which changes should be put to a public vote, but city council will have the final say. The committee met nine times and held two public hearings before voting on its recommendations.

The most discussed topics were the salaries of the mayor and council members, and the requirements for a citizens’ referendum to go through a public vote. The committee’s recommendations are modest salary increases for the mayor and members of the Lubbock City Council, and to make 10% of registered voters the number of signatures needed to present an ordinance to the city council.

The mayor of Lubbock currently earns $900 a year while the six city council members earn $300. Paid monthly, the mayor earns $75 and council members earn $25.

The salary is so low that sitting on the city council is considered a voluntary position, which members of the city council frequently point out – but that doesn’t have to be the case. Most of the public comments before the committee were about paying the city council a living wage. Their argument is that paying a living wage would not make money an obstacle to running for city council. A living salary for the city council would attract a more diverse group of people, attract people of different ages, and allow the mayor and city council to devote more time to the city.

“For some reason we’re obsessed with the word service,” said Nicholas Bergfeld of Lubbock Compact. “There comes a time when a service becomes so burdensome that compensation becomes important. There comes a time when your volunteer firefighters, you want to professionalize them. Why is being at the town hall a magical service? people.”

Bergfeld said the idea that the city council just sets policy is an insult to the importance of that policy. He mentioned that City Council will allocate over $50 million over the next few years for COVID-19 recovery, make decisions on zoning, development, neighborhood revitalization, impact fees, public safety, tax rates and more. He says that’s a lot of responsibility for volunteer positions.

The committee recommends increasing the mayor’s salary to $1,300 per month, or $15,600 per year, and the city council’s salary to $800 per month, or $9,600 per year. The committee also recommended adjusting salaries for inflation.

It’s an adjustment, but not big enough to make being mayor or city councilor a full-time job. James Arnold, committee chair, and Bill Curnow, committee member, say the intention is not to make these positions a career.

Arnold says there has been a lot of debate on both sides of this issue, and he told the board on Tuesday that the committee felt it was a good balance.

“These conversations have been difficult,” Arnold said Tuesday. “We’ve compared it to a lot of other cities… We see the city council as almost a board of directors. They don’t run the city, the city manager and the deputy city managers, these people run the town. We felt like [the mayor and city council] was more of a public service role than a career path, for lack of a better word.”

Does this salary increase ensure that salary is not an obstacle to applying? Curnow probably said no. Curnow, like Arnold, said he felt serving on city council was voluntary service. Curnow said the city of Lubbock has no government where the city council runs the city, and he says they don’t get paid for micromanaging.

There was a salary range discussed for the mayor and city council, but after the committee approved their recommendations, Bergfeld said he would like salaries to be above the poverty line at the very least.

Although some committee members argued for higher salaries during the deliberation process, the seven-member committee approved this recommendation in a unanimous vote.

Another charter amendment recommended by the committee is requiring citizens to submit an ordinance to city council and put it to a public vote.

The municipal charter as written now allows an initiating committee to present an order to the municipal council if the committee collects signatures from registered voters of more than 25% of the number of voters in the last municipal election.

As the committee pointed out, this requirement fluctuates considerably. In May 2018, only 14,604 votes were cast in the citywide mayoral election. Twenty-five percent of that is 3,651 signatures, the number of signatures the committee needed to put the recently passed sanctuary city ordinance for the unborn to a public vote.

In the last municipal elections, which were incorporated into the November elections due to COVID-19 issues in May, 88,045 votes were cast in the mayoral election, so 22,012 signatures are needed to present an order to the municipal council by means of a petition. process until the next municipal elections.

Arnold said the committee wanted to even out what he called a roller coaster, and he said figuring out when to bring an order was like playing the market.

The Charter Review Committee recommends that the city set the number of signatures for a petition at 10% of the number of registered voters registered to vote 30 days before a petition is filed.

There are about 150,000 registered voters in the city of Lubbock, so it would currently take about 15,000 signatures to bring an ordinance to the city council.

Arnold said there was a lot of talk about it too. He said there was consensus on the idea that it should be a fixed percentage of registered voters, but there was much discussion about the exact percentage. He said they discussed lower percentages, higher percentages and everything else, and finally came up with 10% registered voters.

Mitchell Cochran was a member of the committee that collected the signatures for the sanctuary city ordinance for the unborn child, and he argued before the charter review committee that no changes should be made to this rule. .

“Ten percent is way too much and way too arduous to represent the will of the people,” Cochran said in public comments. “Obviously the way it works, works. We got 5,000 signatures, and that was the 63% of people who wanted the ordinance passed. fly in the face of what this nation was built on, and that’s citizen representation.”

The charter review committee is also proposing that city council can overturn the results of a referendum election after one year. City clerk Becky Garza told city council that the charter says nothing about repealing election results, so technically city council could already be repealing referendum election results like the city ordinance. sanctuary for the unborn child. Committee members say a year allows the city to determine whether the election results were the best.

Recommendations also include basic cleaning language, changes to comply with state law, and to make city charter language more gender-neutral.

Arnold said adding council seats and extending the mayor’s term from two years to four years were not considered by the committee.

Arnold says these are just recommendations and it will be up to the city council to decide what, if anything, gets passed by voters. Even during Tuesday’s brief discussion, councilman Juan Chadis expressed his opinion that the compensation for serving on the city council should be higher than what is recommended.

The city council will also have to decide when these wage increases will take effect. It was mentioned this week that they could come into effect after the next election, or come into effect on an individual district basis after the current councilor leaves.

Lubbock City Council will hold its own public hearings and then vote on changes to the city charter that will go to a public vote, potentially in November. Mayor Dan Pope says City Council will discuss these recommendations further in July.

“Council, I think now is the time for us to pursue these recommendations further,” Mayor Dan Pope said after the committee presented its recommendations this week.

William M. Mayer