Into the “what were they thinking” round file should go the idea of giving the Mesa City Council a raise.
The one thing that mutes the ridiculousness of this idea, reported in Saturday’s Tribune by Lindsay Butler, is the fact that five out of the seven current council members are at or near the end of their term, meaning most of the current officeholders won’t directly benefit from a raise, at least immediately.
Yet that’s also what’s so galling about it. These are veterans of the Mesa political scene who seem to be checking the pulse of voters in some other city, one without a long history of political and fiscal conservatism, and a recent history of hearing their city is crumbling beneath them due to lack of funding for basic government functions such as public safety and street repair.
A council salary raise would be a difficult sell in Mesa under any circumstances, and an impossible one right now.
Former City Councilman Rex Griswold, who’s fueling the extra-high turnover by resigning to run for mayor, told Butler, “It’d be a good conversation to have to determine what level and quality of people we get. It’s getting harder and harder to leave a business and run, and a lot of these people are making rules for business.”
The $19,200 salary paid to Mesa council members is more than a number. It’s a statement that the elected office is not envisioned as a full-time job. Even doubling the Mesa council salaries to $38,400 wouldn’t be enough to bring that figure in line with a mid-level professional’s pay.
Phoenix, which pays its council members more than $60,000 and its mayor almost $90,000, views the role differently. So does Tempe, which pays its mayor twice as much as it pays its council members. But we hardly see Mesa voters getting ready to redefine their City Council seats to make them more friendly for career politicians.
A good conversation to take on as we head into the election cycle would be how to put Mesa’s budgetary house in order, with or without Waveyard or a property tax, and how to attract more and larger businesses to the city.
To figure all this out, Mesa needs to engage residents instead of further alienating them.