A Sandy Springs councilmember is raising a discussion around compensation for elected officials, which caused a debate at a recent meeting.

Councilmember Andy Bauman introduced a proposal during a July 20 work session to consider allowing elected officials to get the same health insurance benefits as city employees. He cited the city’s need for diversity in elected officials. He said many nearby cities offer their elected officials access to health care benefits.

Sandy Springs City Councilmember Andy Bauman.

City Council is expected to hear the proposal at its Aug. 3 meeting. It could take the form of a resolution to express support for the city manager to look at compensation options and offer suggestions, Bauman said July 26.

“In my view, we need to be removing barriers to service in elected office,” Bauman writes in a commentary letter to Reporter Newspapers. Read the full piece here. “We should be attracting the best, brightest and most committed … If increasing compensation will enable more individuals to step-up and serve, then I believe that is a good thing and the right thing to do.”

Sandy Springs already offers elected officials participation in its 457 retirement plan. But other cities including Brookhaven, Dunwoody, Alpharetta, Roswell, Smyrna and Savannah offer health benefits to council members and their mayors.

The proposal could cost Sandy Springs between $94,000 and $160,000 for all seven to receive those benefits, City Manager Andrea Surratt said.

The discussion got heated July 20 after Bauman questioned his fellow council members’ comments opposing the idea. He ended up apologizing at the end of the council meeting and later in his commentary letter.

“I’m thinking about future generations of this council and the work that’s involved and the incentives that we need to be considering to get people to want to do this public service,” Bauman said at the July 20 meeting.

For example, in the 2017 election, six out of the seven races were unopposed.

Bauman said if they were serious about inclusion, this was a step in the right direction.

Sandy Springs Councilmember Tibby DeJulio.

Councilmember Tibby DeJulio said when forming the city, they decided to keep it from becoming a bureaucracy. “We wanted people who were serving on the city council as a service, and not as a living,” he said.

Councilmembers John Paulson, Steve Soteres and Chris Burnett echoed his comments.

Mayor Rusty Paul promised to veto the proposal if approved by council, unless it required elected officials to pay 100% of the costs of the benefits.

Bauman said he saw reasons to oppose it on fiscal conservative grounds. Since they already get paid, adding benefits is a matter of degree, he said.

“If you would do this for nothing, then I think you can land on your principle. But this should not be a position for the wealthy and the retired,” Bauman said.

He said he thought it was “highly elitist” for them to dismiss something that might inspire people to run for office.

“I don’t consider myself an elitist. I’m actually not retired. I’m not fully retired and I’m not wealthy,” Councilmember John Paulson said.

Burnett advised Bauman to be careful about calling fellow council members as elitists. And the mayor said Bauman’s characterization was uncalled for.

Near the conclusion of the meeting, Bauman offered an apology for his earlier statement.

“It was not my intention to accuse anybody individually or even collectively of elitism and for that I am very sorry. I do not believe any of us to be elitist,” he said.

Bob Pepalis

Bob Pepalis covers Sandy Springs for Reporter Newspapers.