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Register-Guard: Springfield Ponders Paying Council

The Register Guard | Feb. 9, 2014 7 p.m. | Updated: Feb. 10, 2014 10:51 a.m. | Springfield, Oregon

Contributed By:

Christian Hill

SPRINGFIELD — For more than a century, city councilors have served as volunteers, receiving no pay.

The city charter, which defines the powers of city government, expressly prohibits paying the elected leaders running Lane County’s second-largest city: “No Councilor or Mayor may receive compensation for serving in that capacity.”

Now, councilors are weighing whether to end more than 100 years of tradition in the face of 21st century pressures.

Councilors will discuss Monday night whether to ask Springfield voters to amend the city charter so current and future council members would be paid. Councilors already are reimbursed for city-related expenses they incur.

On the table for discussion is a proposal to pay the mayor $500 a month and city councilors $300 a month. If approved, the proposal could go to the ballot as early as May 20.

A group of three councilors — Sheri Moore, Marilee Woodrow and Hillary Wylie — and two city staff members drafted the proposal during a series of meetings over the past 18 months, said Niel Laudati, the city’s spokesman and a group member.

The compensation being discussed falls far short of a living wage but acknowledges the time and commitment made by councilors, officials said. Some other Oregon cities, including neighboring Eugene, pay their councilors.

Councilors can spend between 25 and 35 hours a week on their elected position, preparing for and attending council meetings and attending meetings with other Lane County governments as well as events at night and on weekends.

Councilors who have regular paid jobs have been known to draw on their paid vacation time to attend city-related functions during the day, and paying out-of-pocket costs for a spouse or family member to accompany them to an event they’re attending in their official capacity, city officials said.

Councilor Sean VanGordon, who works full time for United Healthcare, said he last used four hours of vacation time to attend an area economic summit in November.

VanGordon said he’s undecided on the council pay proposal.

He expressed concerns about community reaction and ensuring that adequate controls are in place.

“If we’re going to ask the voters for something, we need to make sure we’re being responsible with their money,” he said.

Mayor Christine Lundberg said she has heard from many residents surprised that neither she nor the other councilors are paid for their service.

She also is interested in having the discussion. The mayor noted that the council sets policy to meet local, state and federal mandates, a level of complexity absent when the charter was created in 1893.

“It was not nearly the commitment that it is today,” Lundberg said.

City officials said the compensation could tip the scale for residents considering running for City Council but concerned about the impact on any paid job they might hold.

The charter does allow councilors to be reimbursed for expenses they incur serving the city.

The expenses, including mileage and attendance fees, average $543 a month for the entire council, Laudati said.

Three years ago, as an initiative for the city to go paper-free, the city also began paying councilors an $85 monthly stipend to subsidize their personal Internet and celllphone expenses.

Each councilor also was provided an iPad to conduct city business, which must be returned when they leave office.

The subsidy and tablet enabled council members to download digitally their agenda packets and other city documents. The move is estimated to save $10,000 a year in printing costs for the agenda packets, Laudati said.

Eugene voters amended that city’s charter in 2000 to allow monthly pay for its elected councilors. The mayor and councilors are paid $1,815 and $1,210 a month, respectively. Their compensation is increased each July 1 for inflation. Councilors can purchase health insurance provided by the city.

Cottage Grove, Lane County’s third-largest city, doesn’t pay its councilors. Lane County’s five commissioners, who govern unincorporated areas, are paid at least $6,191 monthly, plus receive full county retirement and health care benefits.

If the Springfield proposal goes forward, it would be only the second time since 1992 that Springfield voters have been asked to amend the city charter.

That year, the city drew national attention when voters wrote into the charter language prohibiting the municipal government from promoting homosexuality. The charter amendment was nullified by court rulings and state lawmakers. Voters removed the language in 2001 when they approved a rewrite that modernized the document.

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