Sometimes in politics you just must scratch your head and ask, “what were they thinking?”
On Oct. 18, just three weeks before an election, the Lompoc City Council was set to debate a Consideration of Adjustment to Compensation for Members of the City Council and the Mayor.
In all fairness, as the staff report points out, the last time the council increased their pay was more than 20 years ago. When they raised it then, it had been 15 years prior to that (1985) that their salaries were increased. The raise in 2000 increased their pay from $300 to $600 a month with an additional $200 a month for the mayor; so, it isn’t like they are raising it every couple of years like other jurisdictions.
You’ll have to admit, the cost of everything has increased dramatically since 2000 when councilmembers got their last raise. And, as the staff explains: “Clearly, given the level of time and commitment necessary to fulfill the duties of their positions, the mayor and the City Council members are not in it for the money.”
As a side note, I served 13 years as a planning commissioner and was not compensated for it. We met numerous times throughout the year with some meetings lasting several hours, which included substantial public participation, as we discussed sometimes tedious planning matters.
I participated in two major General Plan updates and a rewrite of the Zoning Ordinance. The “level of time and commitment” preparing for this commission was time-consuming and I was proud to serve my city.
The staff report offers a comparison of council salaries in other cities; the only other city of comparable size is San Luis Obispo where councilmember and mayor salaries are three times that of Lompoc.
But Lompoc is no SLO. Based on the 2020 census, the Lompoc median income is about $57,000 a year, and tax revenue is substantially lower than in SLO, where the median income was $78,000 a year, thus the tax revenue is much greater.
Lompoc city staff estimates the annual fiscal impact at the maximum increase would be $90,050. They recommended that the compensation increase should take effect in January 2023.
This issue could have been considered at any time this year; the only requirement is that the raise cannot take effect until a new council is seated.
The staff offered the council an exit strategy: “If there is no interest in increasing councilmember and mayor compensation, then no action is necessary at this time.”
Timing is everything in politics. In this election two councilmembers are running unopposed, and if they vote to increase their salaries, they’ll not be concerned with paying a political price during the election. The other two councilmembers won’t face voters for another two years, and since memories are sometimes short, they may not face any consequences either.
But the mayor is being challenged, and two of her challengers’ allies, both who are running unopposed, would like to see him elected again. What better way to tilt the voting scales than to cause the current mayor to vote on an issue like this just prior to Election Day.
As they were discussing the issue, Mayor Jenelle Osborne proposed a delay of the implementation date until after the 2024 election. That was the right thing to do.
This election is just a couple of weeks away, so by extending the implementation date it would provide an incentive for more people to compete in the next election and not appear as though they were rushing through a raise just before an election.
Osborne’s well-thought-out proposal wasn’t accepted by the council, so being a principled person, she voted “no,” but the other four councilmembers overruled her and voted for implementation in January of next year.
— Ron Fink, a Lompoc resident since 1975, is retired from the aerospace industry. He has been following Lompoc politics since 1992, and after serving for 23 years appointed to various Lompoc commissions, retired from public service. The opinions expressed are his own.