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Roanoke City Council will get a pay raise, but one in keeping with modesty, a virtue Councilman Sherman Lea now embraces.
Wednesday, June 19, 2013
It didn’t appear Monday afternoon that what people in Roanoke were saying about 28.5 percent pay raises for city council mattered much. Councilman Sherman Lea and Mayor David Bowers stood fast, opposing even a tactic that delayed a final, decisive vote.
Later that night, Lea had an epiphany: Such a huge pay boost was unfair to those who labor hard for the city and who are dependent on him and his colleagues for their wages.
On Tuesday morning, he called to let us know he had a change of heart. He would not support a 28.5 percent increase, stripping the bloc of its majority vote.
Instead, Lea will seek to keep council’s net pay steady once mandatory deductions kick in, and initiate a process so that future raises are not so controversial — both actions in keeping with council’s considered and prudent spending patterns and of members’ often expressed desire to treat employees and taxpayers fairly.
Council members should treat themselves just as fairly by ensuring their salaries are not eroded by upcoming mandatory deductions for retirement plans. As opponents said during the debate, council members knew what the position paid when they ran for the job. That pay should not be penalized, either.
To keep it steady, council members will need to raise their salaries by 8 percent starting July 1, 2014, an amount that Lea on Tuesday notified his colleagues he’d be willing to support. It will keep them whole, and is in keeping with the manner council intends to treat city workers — a concept that helped to swing Lea’s vote.
Lea said some will find fault in any raise for council members, but he felt the 8 percent could be justified. He found it difficult to reconcile the proposed raise with the 2 percent employees will receive this year, despite all the mathematical gymnastics Councilman Bill Bestpitch exercised to show that over the last two decades employees salaries were raised by 66 percent, while council’s had mostly stagnated.
Lea explained he initially favored the large increase because council had not awarded itself one for some time, and the pay had fallen behind what Roanoke County provides its supervisors. To prevent this, Lea suggests council revisit pay every two years.
State law requires that a municipal election intervene between when council awards itself a raise and when it goes into effect. Bestpitch is the only member of the bloc favoring the large raise who could stand for re-election next May. To his credit, he agreed Monday to delay voting on the 28.5 percent in order to consider a lesser raise.
Bowers, Lea and Councilwoman Anita Price would be just midway through their terms in May and could have ignored public outrage, thinking they had little to lose and much to gain from the large increase. But, as Lea now knows, they would have lost something of greater value: the good faith and trust that council has worked hard to maintain.
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