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Board Compensation: The Good & Bad About Changing The Council’s Pay

Recently, the Heber Light & Power board decided to rescind their decision to award it's members a significant pay increase. I applaud their decision, and thank each of you for speaking out against this exorbitant pay raise. I am convinced that your participation was the driving reason that led to this undeserved benefit being rescinded. Understandably, many residents have asked me how this could be avoided in the future.

First, I should explain how our elected officials are compensated for these assignments. Historically, certain boards have paid their members (which are composed of elected officials among others) for their service while others have required service without compensation. Because the Mayor has the authority to assign council members to the various boards, the potential for a Mayor to award the councilmen that support him with high paying assignments has been significant in the past.

When I first took office I did not know that certain boards received compensation for attendance. I believed the City Council was providing a volunteer public service without pay, and I welcomed the opportunity. However, I quickly learned that not only were members being paid, but that the pay they were receiving was the source of many problems among the members of the Governing Body.

Last year I asked my fellow councilmen to address this issue by requiring that the compensation council members receive for serving on their various board assignments be used by the city to pay for expenses related to the City Council. My proposal was met with a great deal of resistance, and ultimately the City Council decided to simply divide the total compensation up equally amongst the members of the City Council, while the Mayor was permitted to receive his usual full share.

If this policy had not been put in place the current compensation for 2012 board assignments would have two city council members receiving over $30,000 annually, and two city council members with greater time commitments would be receiving nothing for their hard work.

This system has been mostly effective at reducing the potential for political favoritism, and has made compensation more fair for each councilman, but has demonstrated significant flaws as well. One glaring example was demonstrated by the most recent controversy involving the Heber Light & Power Board. This system does nothing to prevent that abuse. In addition to the potential for abuse, under the current system a member's pay is unrelated to attendance of their assigned board meetings. A board member may simply choose not to attend their meetings, and still receive their full share of compensation. On the other hand this form of compensation fails to reward members with a proportionately greater time commitment than their counterparts.

Recently I have been in the process of refining a proposal that would address these issues. I want board members to attend their meetings, and actively participate on their assignments. The best way to accomplish this would be to use the total money received for all paying boards to pay each board member a set fee for each board meeting they attend. This form of compensation would incentivize meeting attendance, and would reward members that serve on more boards with a proportional increase in their compensation. It would be fair, and a good policy for the city.

However, during the most recent City Council meeting Councilman Erik Rowland proposed that the City Council adopt changes that were very similar to those that I proposed last year. He proposed that the City Council place all money paid by the various boards into a separate fund to be used for paying any business related expenses of the City Council (i.e. travel, training, etc.).

Given the resistance I received last year with a similar proposal, I was surprised to see the same council that refused my ideas welcomed his. Regardless, I appreciate Councilman Rowland's proposal, and the City Council's willingness to accept it. It demonstrates a greater desire to demand more from our City Council members in terms of serving the city. When it comes to our compensation as elected officials, we should only report to you, the taxpayer.

I feel that this sort of system brings us closer to that idea. However, there are two things that I feel must be addressed for this system to work. First, I have concerns when any elected official determines to set aside a "special fund" that only they are responsible for. And second, I believe that any changes made to the compensation of the City Council should apply to the entire Governing Body of the city, including the Mayor.

Allow me to explain my first point. Councilman Rowland's proposal says that "the remuneration that is received from any services or attendance by a member of the (5) five member city council that is on a board, committee, or commission shall be payable to Heber City and placed directly into a new fund hereto referred to as the "council fund"... This fund shall be under the sole dissection [sic.] of the council and all payments made from this fund will be authorized through the council by way of majority vote."

There are a number of technical problems with maintaining a separate account for the City Council to use at it's sole discretion, but apart from those technicalities, one of the major underlying problems is that this additional account would provide opportunities for misuse. The creation of a separate City Council fund makes it possible for future officials to create an unintelligible web of transactions between the City Council fund and the General fund of the city. It could simply amount to a shell game with public funds. I understand that Councilman Rowland's intentions are good, but I become suspicious whenever any government institution attempts to complicate or obscure it's access to public funds.

In addition to the potential for misuse, under this new policy there is significant potential for a three member tyranny over the City Council, given that payments from the account would only require a majority vote. Members of future City Councils may consider withholding their votes when other members seek reimbursement from the City Council fund, in exchange for their support on unrelated issues (& vice versa). This policy sets the stage for a bartering system where favors and votes are currency.

As I mentioned previously, my second point was that any changes made to compensation of the City Council should include the entire Governing Body of the city, including the Mayor. Currently a large portion of the Mayor's annual compensation is derived from his service on various boards. In-fact, the Mayor receives over $12,000 annually from his board positions alone.

Unlike the City Council, the Mayor keeps every cent from each paying board he serves on. Of all the elected officials who represented Heber City on the Heber Light & Power Board when their infamous pay increase was passed, the Mayor was in a position to gain the most from the decision. Councilman Rowland's proposal does not address one of the major underlying issues that contributed to the passage of that unpopular decision; that the Mayor maintains the ability to influence his compensation from outside sources other than the city. This is a conflict of interest.

As you can see, Councilman Rowland's proposal, although certainly headed in the right direction, has some significant flaws. Luckily, the solutions to these problems are simple. First, the money that would have been paid to board members should be deposited into the General Fund of the city, and should be counted among the city's assets. There is no need for a separate fund. The entire process is simplified by depositing this money directly into the General Fund of the city. The City Council already has procedures in place to account for it's expenses, and the public can easily trace expenditures from the General Fund of the city. The City Council wants this money to benefit the city, and this is the best way to do so.

Second, the Mayor should be subject to the same policy that the City Council will be subject to. To prevent the misuse of authority, the Mayor's compensation should be consolidated into one source, the city. By consolidating the Mayor's compensation into one source, the potential for misuse of his office will be reduced, and transparency in our local government (particularly the governing body) will be fostered.

I congratulate Councilman Rowland for the main idea of his proposal. Combined with the solutions I have proposed, this policy will call for all members of our Governing Body to return to the service of our community

BY ALAN MCDONALD   03/04/2012

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