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Councils Draw Raises and Fire

Pomona lawmakers are the latest to increase their pay by creating development boards.

June 29, 2005|Jessica Gresko | Times Staff Writer

Despite a state law that caps raises for City Council members at 5% a year without voters' approval, Pomona City Council members will see their pay quadruple Friday.

The lawmakers got the raise by using a little-known provision in state law that allows councils to create community development commissions, then appoint themselves to the new boards and draw salaries for their services.

Pomona council members, who serve part time, currently make about $10,000 a year. But earlier this month, they voted to pay themselves an additional $2,500 a month each -- $30,000 a year -- for sitting on the development commission, which meets twice a month.

Pomona's is the latest in a growing list of city councils that have created community development commissions and paid themselves $1,000 or more monthly above their base salary for serving on them.

State law limits how much money council members can receive for service on some boards and agencies, but the law doesn't cap pay for community development commissions, which typically coordinate housing and redevelopment projects.

As a result, development commission pay has ballooned in some municipalities. In Huntington Park, council members receive about $1,000 a month for sitting on the council but an additional $1,950 a month for serving on the city's Community Development Commission.

In Maywood, council members are paid $556 a month for council service but $1,600 a month for their work on the development commission.

Baldwin Park, Bell Gardens, Compton, Rosemead and West Covina all pay their council members $1,000 or more a month for serving on the commissions.

In National City, south of San Diego, council members receive a base salary of about $900 a month but an additional $975 monthly for serving on the city's development commission.

Some city officials argue that added commission pay is deserved because council members can spend hours preparing for meetings.

But critics say the council members are simply using a loophole in the law to increase their salaries, often with little or no public debate.

They argue that although some council members are getting more than $1,000 a month to deal with redevelopment and housing issues, elected officials in many other cities handle the same issues while receiving far less pay.

Assemblyman Hector De La Torre (D-South Gate) has introduced legislation aimed at curbing the extra compensation by capping development commission pay at $150 or $300 monthly, depending on the commission's structure. That amount, De La Torre said, is comparable to the pay council members receive for serving on other commissions. The Assembly approved the bill in April on a 71-2 vote, and the state Senate is expected to take it up as early as Thursday.

The raises in Pomona have roiled the eastern Los Angeles County city of 150,000 where the median household income is about $42,000. Three of the six Pomona council members now say they won't take the increase.

Councilwoman Paula Lantz voted against the establishment of a community development commission.

"The sole purpose in creating [it] was creating an additional funding source for the council," she said. Lantz said the commission gave council members no powers they didn't already have. "I have yet to have anybody tell me what we can do now that we couldn't do then, except get $2,500 more a month," she said.

Some council members defend the amount of their pay, saying that it takes time to prepare for meetings and that many voters do not recognize the size of their job.

"Council in this city is no longer a part-time job," Pomona Councilman Marco Robles said. He added that he spent more than six hours a day dealing with city business for a base salary of $800 a month.

"When you break down the $800 a month to the amount of hours people spend carrying out their duties, the amount of compensation is basically a few pennies," he said.

Pomona resident Patricia Daniels, however, said that what upset her most about the increase was not the amount but that the decision was made without the direct consent of the community. She said the council should have asked voters for additional money.

"If people in Pomona felt you needed a raise, they'd vote you one," Daniels said of the council members.

John Rhinesmith, a Salvation Army employee in Pomona, said the raises were an insult to residents.

"I work hard for my money," said Rhinesmith, who is employed full time and makes about $14,000 a year. He said he did not see why the council deserved more than triple his salary.

"I'm not exactly sure what they do for this city," he said.

Walter Zelman, director of the USC California Policy Institute in Sacramento, said city council members needed to be sensitive to public perception when considering raising their own pay.

"These kinds of add-ons, even when maybe justified by added work, can create the appearance of a conflict of interest," he said.

In fact, some council members see a problem with their pay structure.

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