Does Denver Really Need A Full-Time City Council?

Guest commentator John Bennett writes in today’s Denver Post about the Denver City Council’s delaying an increase in members’ annual salaries from 2011 until 2013.  This is the part that caught my attention:

As part of its belt- tightening, council members delayed a 7 percent increase in their annual salaries, which are already at $78,173, from July 2011 until 2013.

But the council did not go far enough. Other than Denver, which has a population of 600,000, there are only two large cities in the state. Colorado Springs, with a population of 400,000, pays its council members $6,250 per year, which is less than what Denver council members make in a month. Aurora, with a population of 325,000, pays $12,752 per year.

Why is being on the City Council a full-time job worth $78,173 per year?  Being in the Colorado General Assembly is not even a full-time job, and members are paid only $30,000 per year.  I see no reason why Denver’s population of 600,000 needs so much more time and attention from its City Council, and so much more money for it.

As the City looks to cut costs, cutting the City Council back to part-time status would be an excellent place to start.  If the City Council met and were paid for about six weeks throughout the year at the current rate of approximately $1,500/week, the City would save nearly $900,000 on City Council members’ salaries alone.  Presumably, benefits and staff could be reduced as well. 

Most importantly, making the City Council a part-time job would allow City Council members to have real full-time jobs, ensuring that  the City Council is comprised of citizen-legislators instead of professional politicians.  As things stand now, one would have to abandon his or her non-governmental career to serve on the City Council, substantially reducing the depth of the field of potential council members.

The City Charter (sec. 3.3.2) provides “[t]he Council shall meet in the Council chambers each Monday in regular session except as otherwise may be provided by ordinance,” and the Denver Municipal Code (sec. 13.1) provides that except for certain holidays, the “council shall meet in the council chambers each Monday of the year in regular session.”  A City Council that cannot answer the Mayor’s call for an 8% reduction in its budget is not likely to reduce itself to part-time status.

The alternative would be raising the issue by petition and electoral vote.  To get a charter amendment on the ballot would require signatures of qualified electors amounting to at least “five per cent of the next preceding gubernatorial vote” in the City and County of Denver.  (Colorado Const. art. XX, sec. 5).  Just under 158,000 Denver voters voted in the 2006 gubernatorial election, so about 8,000 signatures would be needed. 

Not too bad, actually.  I think a part-time City Council would improve governance and save money.  Something to think about.

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Published in: on July 27, 2010 at 11:28 am  Leave a Comment  

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