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Roanoke City Council members may not like what the public has to say about huge raises. But they’ll have to listen.
Sunday, May 19, 2013
Roanoke City Council ordinarily leaves no navel ungazed upon when deciding even the nit-pickiest of issues. For substantial decisions, months drag by in briefings and meetings that offer ample opportunity for all to be heard. So it is astounding that council initially failed to consider that the public might have something to say about the 28.5 percent raises the majority wishes to grant itself.
It looks as though those hankering for a big raise wanted to slip something by unnoticed. Fat chance. The raises are the talk of the town, and the town now will have two chances to speak directly to the council members. Those opportunities, though, come merely as a byproduct of the majority ensuring they are all in attendance for two consecutive meetings so that the vote goes in their favor.
All of this scheming — bringing up the raises after the public hearing on the budget and maneuvering to line up votes — is out of step for a council that prides itself on transparency. One member, Bill Bestpitch, may have tripped over the open meetings law by sending an email to his colleagues on the eve of Monday’s meeting, making his case for the raises. Bestpitch flirted dangerously close to hosting a private electronic meeting. Though he said he didn’t mean to encourage an illegal conversation, and there is no cause to suspect he deliberately aimed to circumvent public deliberation, Bestpitch should have resisted pressing the send button.
All of this “buffoonery,” as Councilman Ray Ferris put it, just proves that Roanoke City Council is simply awful when trying to pull a fast one.
The process now will slow with the first vote on the raises coming no sooner than June 3. And it could be delayed even until the end of the year, as the pay boosts can’t go into effect until an intervening election.
The respite will give all a chance to understand why it is not just the amount of the raises that is troublesome, but how it was handled.
Work on the coming fiscal year’s spending plan began months ago. Many public briefings were held to ensure robust involvement and understanding by the people who pay the bills.
It was only after the final chance for people to speak that any serious discussion was had about raises for the mayor and council.
Mayor David Bowers and council members Bestpitch, Sherman Lea and Anita Price favored the large increase, reasoning that the amount of the part-time salaries, at $23,000 for the mayor and $20,000 for the rest of them, would still fall below the maximum state law allows. And that they hadn’t enjoyed incremental raises, as city employees have, so their salaries are falling behind rising costs.
The others, Ferris, Court Rosen and Dave Trinkle, objected to such large increases, though they might agree to smaller ones that offset impending mandatory contributions to health and retirement plans.
Lea asked to postpone last week’s vote because Bestpitch would not be at the May 20 meeting, meaning the second ballot would fail.
The minority agreed to the delay for a different reason: Taxpayers could speak their mind. To her credit, Price, too, said she wants to hear what people have to say. Perhaps her vote will sway toward the side of modesty.
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