Opinion: Do Our City Council Members Really Deserve a Raise?

West Hollywood City Councilmembers (left to right) Lauren Meister, Lindsey Horvath, John Heilman, John D'Amico and John Duran (Photo by Jon Viscott)
West Hollywood City Councilmembers (left to right) Lauren Meister, Lindsey Horvath, John Heilman, John D’Amico and John Duran (Photo by Jon Viscott)

Item 2k on tonight’s City Council agenda would give all the council members a raise from $835 per month to $1,343 per month. (That doesn’t include payments for pensions, health care benefits, and reimbursement for expenses). As a consent item it does not have to be discussed or debated before being voted on.

A city staff report recommending the raise states: “This item is also consistent with the West Hollywood General Plan to maintain integrity and transparency in West Hollywood’s decision making process” This piqued my interest. Council raises on the consent calendar? Council raises without public input? Was it really a city staffer driving to work who decided we should give our city council members a raise? So I started digging ….

Does a city council that has two members involved in legal proceedings paid for by citizens deserve a raise? (Duran-Owens sexual harassment suit, Solomon-D’Amico harassment suit). Does a city council whose former deputies are also suing the city deserve to be rewarded with a 50% increase in base salary? Does a city council that has had charges of credit card abuse, sex for hire and members who can’t get along with each other deserve to be rewarded for that behavior? We had two elections this year and elected four council members. Every one of us ran for office understanding the compensation plan and not one brought up compensation during the campaign.

West Hollywood is a general law city. We are not a charter city. General law cities are subject to the State of California rules for compensation of its council members. Let’s compare the compensation of some of the other cities cited on the staff report. (Salaries do not include a council member’s health plan, pension plan, or travel and other expense offsets.)

Here’s a quick breakdown of what the city is paying each council member, per resident, in West Hollywood and the proposed per capita increase.

West Hollywood: 27.6 cents per person per year with a proposal to move to 45 cents per person per year.

Beverly Hills 27 cents per person
Burbank 14.5 cents per person
Culver City 14.6 cents per person
Glendale 8.6 cents per person
Manhattan Beach 16.8 cents per person
Pasadena 13.3 cents per person
Redondo Beach 16.4 cents per person
Santa Monica 15 cents per person

The West Hollywood City Council’s compensation is already the highest per capita among any of the cities listed in the staff report, which recommends a 50% increase. Let’s keep digging, who came up with this idea?

I reached out to each council member for his or her input. Rumors were flying that Lauren Meister approached Paul Arevalo about the council members’ workload and the compensation. Other rumors were that another council member complained: “We haven’t gotten a raise in 10 years.” So I sent an email to each council member requesting his or her take on this issue. After all, since when do city staffers recommend city council pay raises while the city council votes on staff raises? Where are the checks and balances? Don’t the people have a voice?

John Duran hit me back first. “First I’ve heard of it, haven’t read the agenda.”

John Heilman hit me back second. “Apparently someone said something at council comments which triggered finance to look at it. I did not initiate it and I don’t know if anyone on council did.”

John D’Amico hit me up next. “I asked about whether we were properly handling our expenses since we received a technology allowance, and what was the requirement for disclosing that if we were not using all of the allowance every month/year for technology — and were instead using it for other council-related expenses….that is how the discussion began,” D’Amico said. “In addition, I have been saying for four years that the pay is not commensurate with the work load, and that we have been earning approximately .38 cents per year. It is time for a raise. ” D’Amico then added: “This is something that all of us have decided to move forward on. ”

Lindsey Horvath let me know her thoughts. Seeming surprised it was on the consent calendar, she promised to pull it for discussion and public input. She added that she did not think it was fair to vote on her own raise and promised to abstain.

Lauren Meister replied last. “This item is being brought up by the City Managers office to address questions posed by council members in closed session,” she wrote. She also said she would pull the item for discussion. Her email was cc’ed to Paul Arevalo, the city manager, and he quickly replied: “This item is being presented to the council as an information item with a recommendation that they adjust their compensation.” Really? D’Amico says it’s an item “all of us have decided to move forward on.”

As you can see only two of the council members — D’Amico and Meister — seem to be familiar with the item. Is D’Amico the only one fessing up? That Meister’s response included a cc from the city manager also seemed interesting. The rumor about Lauren’s involvement seems to be backed up by her decision to include the city manager in her answer and her own appointee’s public comment confirming her thoughts. A plan to ‘tuck’ it under staff and not attach a council members name.

My question: Why wasn’t a single council member willing to sign his or her name to this item and bring it forward? As the staff report says: “This item is also consistent with the West Hollywood General Plan to maintain integrity and transparency in West Hollywood’s decision making process.” Where’s the transparency? Not a single council member was willing to bring this forward under his or her name. Did the city manager comply and neatly tuck this under “staff?” That’s not transparent at all.

The bottom line is our city council members are already the highest paid council members per capita than all the neighboring cities cited in the staff report. Each council member ran for office knowing this is a part-time job. We do have to make sure each council member is able to be reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses for travel, and other constituent and business-related items. But we, the people, deserve the right to weigh in on a matter like this. We, the people, have the right to change our general law city into a charter city, and with that develop new ways of compensating our city council members. And we, the people, have a right to discuss city council raises with proper public notice and not with them tucked into the consent calendar on a slow November day when many are not listening. We deserve time to evaluate the results of the investigations and performance of new city council members before voting on a raise.

We have plenty of time to push this item into next year and still reward our city council members for their efforts. Any raise would not take effect until after the next election anyway. The most important thing is that the people deserve the right to weigh in on these matters. The lack of public input on this item, the way it has been presented, the cover-up by certain members who “know nothing,” “haven’t read the item” or did not have the courage to bring this item forward under their own name says to me… “you all don’t deserve a raise.”

Let’s get our house in order first. Let’s put these investigations behind us, settle up with the deputies, and allow for fair public input by the people before you give yourself a raise for a job well done.

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Michael Foley
Michael Foley
4 years ago

This is a joke! Two friends of mine were killed in the crosswalk at Palm and Santa Monica 2 years ago and they still haven’t found the money to put lights there. A raise!!?? You all should be thrown out of office. You epitomize hubris and greed!

tony rizzo
tony rizzo
4 years ago

Maybe we should call them the sneaky council instead of the city council. If they did things that benefit the people of WeHo as fast as they do to benefit themselves we’d have a City Council FOR THE PEOPLE!

Larry Block
Larry Block
4 years ago

Well we can all move on to a new subject, they approved the raises 4-1. Lindsey Horvath abstained. D’amico went a bit nuts calling her a ‘chicken shit’ and trying to intimidate her into voting his way. Lindsey stood her ground poised. I suggested a regular review of these type of and that was supported by Heilman and seems to be what was passed. It was not a transparent process. Today the first day of daylight savings in a council chamber with 5 people in the audience they passed their own raises. We heard about it on friday, and its… Read more »

Tony Rizzo
Tony Rizzo
4 years ago

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all give ourselves a raise when we decided we are over worked? New council members fought hard to win their seats knowing what the job paid and the time required to do it. There is no crime in asking for a raise but shouldn’t the people of WeHo be a party in deciding when a raise is deserved and how much of a raise should be given? Once again Larry Block has uncovered something that almost slipped by us unnoticed. Okay, maybe the WeHo City Council is made up of members “Of the… Read more »

Tom Smart
Tom Smart
4 years ago

Doesn’t the pay they accept in back room deals from developers factor in to this discussion???

Rudolf Martin
Rudolf Martin
4 years ago

good points, Larry! Agreed!

Alibaba
Alibaba
4 years ago

Why is the reference for Councilmember’s pay based on Cents per capita. Why not look at the city’s gross revenue per capita and then compare the compensations?

Lynn
Lynn
4 years ago

Thank you Larry for probing into this and bringing it into the light. We all would benefit from a clear understanding.

Consent item 2.I might benefit from the same scrutiny.

James
James
4 years ago

The city council members should be subject to the same cost of living increase as tied to CPI. or the rent increase allotted to landlords. A 50% increase is like robbing the bank. There was ZERO increase in benefits for most of us. There was a .0075 increase in rent. And then there is city hall with gigantic pay increases for city staff, benefits that cannot really be calculated, preferential inside arrangements for some city council on office space as well as so many perks paid for by us. Seems unfair, double standard and trying to sneak it in without… Read more »

Brad Weston
Brad Weston
4 years ago

One thing is for sure, John Heilman did not asked for a raise. Leave it to Damico and Meister to claim they re not getting paid enough money. It’s called public service.

Mike Dolan
Mike Dolan
4 years ago

@Karen–“That works out to a cost per resident of 27 cents a year, compared to what will be 41 cents per resident for the West Hollywood City Council”. — Henry Scott.

https://www.wehoville.com/2015/11/01/the-weho-city-council-may-be-giving-itself-a-big-pay-raise/

For all the city is and does, I think the raises are called for. We are second to no other city in our Human Services, Social Services…

It’s this 12th hour opaque proposal that needs light to shine on and through so residents understand fully why this is marginal and reasonable. But first, the community process.

John
John
4 years ago

What are the pension benefits?

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