Editor’s Note: This commentary piece from Sandy Springs Councilmember John Paulson is in response to a conversation around compensation for elected officials. Sandy Springs recently decided to allow elected officials access to health insurance starting in January, but only if they pay 100% of the cost. Mayor Rusty Paul submitted a commentary piece, along with City Councilmember Andy Bauman, who kicked off the discussion late last month. Dontaye Carter, who has announced his candidacy for Sandy Springs mayor, also wrote a piece.
There have been several commentaries recently in the Reporter Newspapers about the council compensation question. After reading these commentaries and hearing from constituents, I am responding with my thoughts.
The topic was the compensation paid to the Sandy Springs City council, specifically the addition of paid benefits, to possibly include health and dental insurance as well as others. Note these benefits are not called for by the charter, which is ratified by the state, but rather left to the council, who could vote to provide themselves these benefits. In some cases, this could almost double the average councilman compensation (per one councilman’s presented table). The purpose of the discussion was ways for the city council to “remove barriers to service in elected office.” While I applaud the discussion and do not wish to have artificial barriers for folks interested in this part time job, I for one do not believe the current compensation levels are a barrier to folks running for council.
THE MATH: So, let’s look at the facts: the current council salary by law is $18,000/year or $1,500 per month. I estimated how many hours I spend on city activities and business in this current year, and come away with an average of around 8-10 hours a week or around 40 hours a month. Some weeks I spend 2 hours a week, others 10-20. We only have one meeting in July (and this year in September), so those are pretty light months with lower hourly demands. This time tabulation includes time spent on the phone with citizens, staff, and others conducting city business. Simple math determines that this is a wage of around $37.50 an hour. I am only speaking about myself, not other councilmembers, but would not be surprised to find this time commitment to be about right for others. This was always intended to be a part-time job. A new councilmember might spend more time than this getting up to speed.
So, contrary to the image portrayed as being so poorly compensated that no one would want or could afford to take this job, the reality is this is a part-time job paying an average of $37.50/hour. This is also a job which is essentially guaranteed (once elected) for 4 years. Not CEO wages, but certainly not pauper wages either!
Our council needs to balance the needs of its citizens with the responsible spending of these same constituents’ money. This weighs on my mind because, unlike private sector businesses where if a citizen does not want to go to the local coffee shop, he just stays away. Not so with taxes, which the citizens are required to pay. So, Council must always try to balance the needs of the community with the cost to that same community.
It you get elected to this council, that will be your responsibility!
Finally, during the council races of almost 8 years ago candidates included men and women, ethnic minorities, some young, some old, all of whom were running for city council. Only a few received enough votes to win. By the way, the council pay at that time was $12,000/year.
So, let’s talk about how to get on the Sandy Springs City Council.
- A potential candidate must register to run sometime during the third week of August of 2021. Cost to run for council is $540, which is 3% of the annual salary.
- Each district has around 18,000 citizens, many of whom are registered voters. So, a candidate needs to convince these voters they are the best choice for council going forward.
- Then the candidate must get the majority of the vote on November 2.
The existing city council does not decide who wishes to run for office, the candidate does.
The existing city council does not decide who will be the next councilman, the voter does.
Any candidate needs to decide if they wish to attempt to compete for this part-time job and to be a part of their city!
Being on the Sandy Springs City Council has been one of the highlights of my life, and one I take seriously. Those who know me know I, on more than one occasion, have told constituents that if they do not like how the city is being run to run for office themselves. I stand by that. I only ask that you run in order to serve your city, not for the money,
(PS – At the last meeting the council elected to offer insurance benefits to elected officials, provided they pay the premium. A good compromise.)