HOLMBERG: Raises for Richmond City Council? Who cares?

Posted at 12:15 AM, Oct 22, 2015
and last updated 2015-10-22 00:15:33-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- What if they gave a public hearing about Richmond City Council raises and nobody came?

That's basically what happened Wednesday night. I counted eight people in the crowd, half of them reporters.

Just three people spoke during this big public hearing held by the Council Compensation Review Committee, one of them former council member Viola Baskerville, who made the point that a nice raise would attract the best and the brightest and encourage a wider pool of those willing to run.

City Council members have been paid the same thing - $25,000 plus expenses - for 18 years. New council president Michelle Mosby asked to see about a raise, which is a complicated process that will require the blessing of the General Assembly.

Mark City Council

Hence the compensation review committee, which is made up of citizens and city policy experts, most of them volunteers. (Their budget is $5,000).

They were certainly hoping for more guidance from citizens, admitted committee chair Matthew Stanley, president of the Fan District Association.

Currently, Richmond City Council members make less than board of supervisors members in Chesterfield County (about $35,000) and Henrico County (about $50,000).

But council members in somewhat similar cities make less than ours do. Charleston-area council members make $15,000 to $20,000.

Birmingham pays $15,000, although that salary jumps to $50,000 in two years.

Wilmington, NC, also pays about $15,000, what you can make a year on minimum wage.

But Austin Texas pays a whopping $70,000.

Richmond salaries

If you scan council salaries around the country, you see a lot of jurisdictions having this conversation.

There's a good argument that keeping salaries low for these very time-consuming and pressurized part-time positions keep poor or middle-class citizens from running. They're too busy paying the bills to play politics and serve the public out of the goodness of their hearts.

So should council members get a raise?

Based on the lack of input Wednesday night, committee members will likely be checking the comments section of news reports on this subject, so post your thoughts with this story on our Facebook page.

Me, I'd say we have a decent council that seems to avoid making snap decisions, or many decisions at all. And we're all still pretty new to the whole strong mayor thing.

The city is doing amazingly well compared with the desolation of 20 years ago, although much of that revitalization has been privately driven.

But a $5,000 to $7,000 pay bump sounds reasonable to me. I know how much time these folks invest, from answering phone calls and attending neighborhood meetings, to actually digesting and refining the details that make a city operate.

The committee's recommendations will go to council in two weeks.

What say you?



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