Editor’s Note: This commentary piece by Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul is in response to a previous commentary piece by City Councilmember Andy Bauman, related to a discussion around compensation benefits for elected officials.
In my first elective office, the mayor made $100 a month and the council (of which I was one) made $25 a month. Stone Mountain was and is still a small town. To save the city money, the mayor or his wife worked the 11-7 police dispatcher shift almost every night.
Council felt this was patently unfair, so we conspired to raise his salary to $500 a month, and state law at the time required we simultaneously raise council pay, so we bumped our monthly stipend to $50. After our surprise vote, the mayor vetoed our ordinance, telling us that he appreciated the sentiment, but this was about community service, not compensation.
It was a lesson in public service that I never forgot. Randolph Medlock served as Stone Mountain’s mayor for 40 years and he was neither rich nor elitist. His day job was an installer for the pre-deregulated Atlanta Gas Light – or as he called it, “the gas company.” One thing everybody knew: Randolph Medlock loved his town, and his service was how he showed it.
When it was recently argued that the lack of benefits for elected officials was a barrier to seeking office, my first thought was of this long ago learned lesson and the character of the man who taught it. It is a lesson I have tried to emulate since.
Councilman Dejulio accurately captured the sentiment that Eva Galambos expressed when Sandy Springs became a city. Mayor and Council are part-time, citizen legislators and the hallmark of those positions is service to community with a professional city manager and staff operating the city day to day. Eva Galambos and Randolph Medlock were alike in that regard.
I believe Councilman Bauman is sincere, but those opposing the benefits proposals are equally sincere because they harken back to that traditional view of public service. It is neither elitist nor insidious, but a genuine assessment of our proper role.
Mayor and Council are still part-time positions, not full-time jobs with commensurate salaries and benefits. We provide guidance and set policy for the professional staff, pass laws and ordinances as needed, set the budget, respond to constituent needs and inquiries, and provide oversight to city operations. Under the City Charter, that is our role.
My first campaign cost $100: $25 qualifying fee, one black & white printer plate, and a case of paper. Using a borrowed offset printer, I printed a brochure and walked door-to-door explaining why I wanted to be a council member. I won.
This year’s mayor and council races will cost significantly more: one consultant gave me a budget of $235,000. I cannot in good conscience spend that much, so I’ll do what I can with help from family, friends and supporters. Council races will be in the $25,000-$35,000 range. If anything, that is the barrier to seeking office, but this is the reality of modern campaigns in a city of 110,000.
Your council does not always agree on everything, but we have always treated each other with respect and, except last Tuesday, we never question our colleagues’ motives. When we are on the losing side of a vote, we put it behind us and move on, thus avoiding the bitter politics that typifies governance elsewhere.
On Tuesday [Aug. 4], every member of council will have their say and vote on the benefits issue based on their conscientious beliefs and values. Once it is over and the result announced, I truly hope we will put this vote behind us as well.