I’m confident this opinion piece will make many of you crazy.
But before you beat me up, please take a moment and read what I have to say. If you still disagree, then feel free to respond.
Our Birmingham City Council increased its pay from $15,000 to $50,000 a year–plus expenses, effective 2017.
The public and media response has been ugly.
I’m not saying $50,000 is the right amount and I’m not comfortable with the way the legislation was passed, but it’s possible a pay increase is the right thing for Birmingham.
Government should be run like a business
Most of you will agree that government should be run like a business.
The most successful companies recruit good people and pay them a competitive wage.
We pay our Council members $15,000 a year and the amount hasn’t been increased in two decades.
The City of Birmingham is a large business with a budget of $400 million. How can Birmingham attract a large number of strong qualified candidates when the pay is so low?
If I paid my top managers (or even my employees) $15,000 a year I’d be bankrupt by next month.
It doesn’t matter what you pay politicians—they’re all up to no good
People say, “It makes no difference what you pay elected officials—they’re just going to look out for themselves and screw the rest of us.”
Lack of trust and disappointment with our elected officials is rampant across America. How else do you explain Donald Trump? He’s an example of the perfect ‘non-politician.’
Yet we live in the most prosperous, productive, and successful country in the history of the world.
We have many good and honest politicians. If that were not the case, America would crumble. So if we are going to survive as a country we should be willing to pay our elected officials a fair wage.
Our politicians and our political process may be imperfect, but I sure don’t want to live anywhere else.
The average Birmingham citizen earns $31,467—how do we justify $50,000?
The media reminds us that the average citizen of Birmingham earns a median household income of $31,467 and our City Council wants to pay it’s members almost twice that much.
As a business owner, I don’t want my company to be managed by an average person. Many folks in Birmingham are old and poor and may be on social security or welfare–which brings down the average pay. Just because some folks in a city are poor doesn’t mean that their elected leaders should be poorly paid and consequently less qualified.
The average household income in Mt. Brook is $131,281. Would it be appropriate to tie the average household income in communities rich and poor to the average income of their citizens?
What can happen when you pay people too little?
Paying your employees poorly has its consequences.
In November of last year, Charlotte, North Carolina Mayor Patrick Cannon, was incarcerated into Federal Correctional Institution Morgantown. Cannon was arrested in March and accused of accepting more than $50,000 in bribes from FBI agents and a Charlotte strip club owner.
Yes, there are dishonest politicians outside of Jefferson County.
We should probably not be surprised by Mayor Cannon’s actions. He was earning $23,052 a year as Mayor.
It’s reasonable to assume that folks who are poorly paid may be more likely to find creative ways to increase their cash flow.
Council members are public servants doing a part-time job
Let’s be realistic.
There may be a few unselfish people who are willing to live as paupers to have the opportunity to serve as public servants—but there aren’t many. And why should there be?
Most of us have families to raise and other financial responsibilities.
Would you personally be willing to run for City Council, do all the grunt work required, and take abuse from the public for $15,000 a year?
When you increase pay in government or in the private sector, more people run for office or apply for jobs. The level of candidates improve.
They were sneaky with their pay increase
No matter what any Councillor may have said publicly—I’m pretty sure most Council members felt they had to resort to subterfuge to sneak in their pay increase.
But why did they feel compelled to take the low road?
No matter how they presented their pay increase, the public and media would have gone crazy. It certainly would have been better to be more open and honest, but it also would have been better to increase pay a little at a time over many years—than to do it all at once.
There’s not a single person reading this piece who would agree to work for a company that was paying the same salary as 20 years ago.
Alabama Legislators attack City Council
Some members of the Alabama Legislature accused the Birmingham City Council of abusing their authority by approving an “excessive” pay raise.
This accusation is actually comical.
These are the same legislators that couldn’t agree on a State budget in a Regular Session. They also failed to reach an agreement in a Special Session—and now Governor Bentley will have to call a second Special Session–and maybe a third.
It costs the State about $400,000 per Special Session—and each legislator is paid extra for each Special Session.
Senator Gerald Dial, a Republican from Lineville, introduced a resolution during the Regular Session calling on lawmakers to forgo their paychecks during the Special Session. Though it passed the Senate unanimously, the resolution was never considered by the House.
State Senator Jabo Waggoner, a Republican, from Jefferson County said, “”We’ve heard for years, ‘Give us home rule. Give us some local control,'” he said. “Well, we don’t expect when they’re given local control that it’s going to be abused to this extent.”
Well, who’s going to protect us from our State Legislators?
Why government consolidation is needed
Many people have told me that the antics of the Birmingham City Council prove why government consolidation is a bad idea.
I contend that these antics prove that government consolidation is an idea whose time has come.
If we were able to consolidate our county/city government—we would get a fresh new government. It wouldn’t be our existing City Council making the decisions. People from all parts of Jefferson County would be able run for office and to vote.
Many complaints have come from folks who live outside the City of Birmingham (including me). How can we complain when we don’t live in the City, can’t run for office and can’t vote? And why should the Birmingham City Council care what we think?
Good pay for a job well done
Birmingham’s enjoying an incredible building boom; and while much of the credit goes to developers, our city leaders deserve credit for their commitment to these projects. If our political leaders hadn’t had the vision to invest in Railroad Park, Regions Field, and others, Birmingham would still be stuck in a rut.
In addition the City of Birmingham generated a $5 million surplus this year and is investing $6.5 million in an agressive neighborhood clean up effort.
Doesn’t sound too shabby to me.
If you had employees who turned your business around, wouldn’t you consider rewarding them with a generous raise?
This could turn out to be ironic
I received an instant message last week from an community activist saying he was going to organize a campaign to unseat Council members in next year’s election. Higher pay and a more vibrant Birmingham will definitely attract new and varied candidates–putting the incumbents at risk.
We could conceivably have a brand new Council–wouldn’t that be ironic?
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David Sher is co-CEO of AmSher Compassionate Collections and leads Business Development for the Small Business Division of Intermark Group, He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).