The three officials representing Buckhead on the Atlanta City Council voted Dec. 3 to support a pay raise for council members starting in 2014, saying the work justifies the extra money.
Under the new pay structure, council members will receive an annual salary of $60,000 and the mayor will receive $184,000. Currently, taxpayers provide a $39,500 annual salary for council members and $147,500 for the mayor.
The council voted 10-4 to support the raises, the first in eight years.
Council members cited a report by the Elected Officials Compensation Commission that found council members spend in excess of 60 hours a week doing their jobs. The report found that council members in Atlanta receive 28 percent less than council members in comparable cities. It added, however, that the comparison was hard to draw because the city’s charter doesn’t specify whether city council members work part time or full time.
Council members representing Buckhead said it is a full-time job and the raises reflect that.
Councilman Howard Shook, District 7, said many qualified candidates don’t run for City Council because the pay isn’t competitive with private sector jobs. Shook said the raise isn’t about him, it’s about the future of the office.
“I am convinced that Buckhead residents would love the opportunity to see highly successful people put down what they’re doing
and take these elective offices and devote their energies to the greater good,” Shook said. “I have tried many, many times to recruit people with track records of success to run for these jobs, and inevitably when that $39,000 figure comes up there’s a lot of laughter and the conversation dies.”
Shook noted that the council turned down a raise four years ago in the thick of the Great Recession. He said he hasn’t caught much grief from voters over his decision.
“I’ve gotten a couple of nasty emails, a nasty phone call, that’s it,” Shook said.
Councilwoman Felicia Moore, District 9, said the Compensation Commission’s report convinced her raises were appropriate.
“We’re not asking for something that was totally out of line with the benchmark,” Moore said. “I thought it was reasonable given the responsibilities we have. In the future I think it will bode well for future candidates who want to run for council. It can be a labor intensive and time intensive process to do that.”
Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean, District 8, said taxpayers want “a high level of service and accountability” from elected officials. She said council members are often unable to make money from a side job while serving their constituents.
“There’s really no limit to the amount of work you can do to make sure we’re having good policy, good accountability, good constituent services, good relationships with our other government agencies,” Adrean said. “My goodness you could be at it twenty-four seven, easily.”
Council members attend meetings from sun-up to sundown, serving on committees, visiting neighborhood associations and meeting with constituents one-on-one. Adrean and Shook frequently attend the monthly meeting of the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods, an association of homeowners’ groups.
Gordon Certain, president of the North Buckhead Civic Association and BCN secretary, said the raises are fair and probably still not enough to properly compensate council members.
“I’m sure that every one of them puts in a full time job and they get a lot of grief for it,” Certain said. “I don’t always agree with what they do but I think they really work hard at it.”