Maybe, had they done it a few dollars a year since the last raise, no one would have noticed.
Elgin Mayor Chris Cannon bent over backwards to make sure the public knew it was coming and why. The city council worked the numbers so the overall budget wouldn’t increase. And they made sure what they did wouldn’t go into effect until June 2019, after the next city election.
Still, there wasn’t any way around it: At a regularly scheduled meeting on Dec. 4, Cannon and current council members tripled the council’s monthly pay and boosted the mayor’s pay by nearly three and a half times.
Local headlines didn’t spare the elected officials of this town of 9,700, east of Austin.
Beginning next summer, council members who now make $50 a month will make $150 a month. Cannon who’s served as mayor for $75 a month since 2016, will get a pay bump to $250.
“Even at $250 a month we’re not getting rich. I’m doing it because I love my community,” Cannon said.
Juan Gonzalez, the council member who raised the issue during budget discussions in September, almost seemed embarrassed at the attention it has drawn, but he said the time was right.
“I didn’t mean for all this conversation to go on for two to three months but I think it’s appropriate,” Gonzalez said after the council’s November meeting. “It’s not something that’s outlandish, and it’s not for the purpose of enriching us, for sure.”
Former mayors and council members in Elgin say the pay increase discussion was more than 30 years overdue. City records, squirreled away somewhere in boxes, couldn’t be found to pinpoint the last time elected officials got a raise.
Ken Daughtry served two terms as mayor in the 1980s. He isn’t exactly sure of the years. The retired real estate man never took a penny of his $50 monthly stipend, he told The Texas Monitor. He donated it for work on the city’s Thomas Memorial Park.
“I just didn’t feel right about taking it,” Daughtry said. “The city was always so poor.”
Jan Schroeder, who is pretty sure she followed Daughtry as mayor in the late 1980s, said she knows the job of council member has gotten tougher. She hears it from her niece, Sue Brashar, a current council member.
In 1988, the council passed a budget for the coming year of about $1.3 million, according to figures supplied by City Secretary Amelia Sanchez. This fall, the council approved an annual budget of a little over $15 million.
Schroeder said she’s not sure she would have supported tripling the pay, but she does think local elected officials more than earn it.
“We always felt like it was much more of a public service,” Schroeder, reached at her son’s home in Chandler, Ariz., told The Texas Monitor. “There is so much more to do today. We were not expanding [in the ‘80s] the way the city is today.”
Nearly every small city in the orbit of Austin is growing rapidly. When Elgin officials canvassed other councils in the area, they found mostly public service-level wages.
While Hutto, a booming little city of more than 25,000 people, pays its mayor $1,500 a month and its council members $600, Bastrop pays the mayor $150 and council members $75 monthly. Elected officials in Manor and Smithville are not paid, although they can be reimbursed for city business expenses.
Cannon, who was elected to the council in 2009, said the council worked some of the expense stipend totals into the raises and eliminated the overall impact on the total budget.
And once the issue was raised publicly, he and the council members tried to publicize their proposal as much as possible. “We purposely dragged our feet on a decision because we wanted to give the public plenty of time to discuss it,” Cannon said.
No one appeared at the Dec. 4 meeting to protest the council voting to give the city’s elected officials the big raise, according to the minutes. Nor did citizens voice objection to the pay increase when it was first broached at a meeting in September or when discussion continued at meetings in October and November, the minutes show. And at a public hearing scheduled to discuss only the raise, no one stood to speak for or against it.
When it came time for the vote, only council member Neil Beyer opposed it. Beyer did not reply to a request from The Texas Monitor to explain his vote, but he told a reporter from the local Bastrop Advertiser that night, “I just don’t agree with it,” before walking away.
Cannon said he pressed for the pay increases as a modest way of encouraging people in Elgin to run for local office. In past elections, it has been common for council members to cycle off after a single term and then find no one running to replace them. That leaves seats that are filled by appointment.
Cannon beat an incumbent nine years ago but has not been challenged since. “There’s something wrong with that,” he said.
Judging from the reaction, Cannon said he thinks voters are OK with the pay increase.
“I live in this town. I’m always the mayor — at church and the HEB, at school,” Cannon said. “I know when people are pissed off at me. That just hasn’t happened. I think we knew what we were doing.”
Mark Lisheron can be reached at [email protected].