Casey Roats, the mayor of Bend, leads a city of 86,765 people — a population that increases nearly every day. For his efforts, Roats receives a $2,400-a-year stipend, the same amount that Bend mayors have received since 1995.
A citizen committee reviewing Bend’s charter agreed earlier this year that the stipend the mayor receives is not enough. One committee member even suggested a hefty new salary for the mayor: $50,000 a year.
The issue will be discussed Tuesday, when the committee is expected to recommend removing the mayor’s pay from the charter, a decision that would only become permanent after a citywide vote.
Because the mayor’s stipend is included in the charter, as well as the pay received by city councilors, it can only be changed with voter approval. Councilors are paid the same amount as the mayor: $200 a month.
Committee members will also debate whether to tie a mayor’s pay to Bend’s median income or create a new committee that will recommend salaries for elected officials. Many other local governments have committees recommend compensation and elected officials decide whether to accept that recommendation.
Increasing the mayor’s salary would come along with directly electing a mayor, instead of having councilors choose a mayor from among themselves following every election. While voters would elect the mayor, the committee won’t recommend any real changes to his or her role — meaning the mayor would remain a voting member of the council who presides over meetings, signs official documents and appoints committee members with the council’s advice and consent, but future mayors won’t have any additional authority.
An elected mayor should make at least $50,000, charter review committee member Kathleen Meehan Coop said during an October meeting. The mayor’s job should be considered at least half time, and potentially full time, she said.
“If we as a community are looking for a person to be the political head, we want that continuity,” she said. “To expect someone to provide that, we need to pay that as a real job.”
But several former Bend mayors and a current and former mayor of Redmond were split on whether to treat mayoral or city council positions as anything more than a volunteer policy-making job. Roats did not respond to an interview request.
Kathie Eckman, who served as mayor of Bend from 2009 to 2011 and for a brief period in the early 1990s, said she didn’t see a need for the mayor or city councilors to make more. Eckman said she worked about 10 hours a week on city business during her terms, but it’s possible to spend more time.
“It’s more of a token to me than it was a job, and I would be sad if it ever became a job,” she said.
The idea of increasing city councilor stipends to something resembling a salary was bandied about in the late 1990s, when a handful of councilors didn’t hold other jobs, Eckman said.
“It just didn’t fly then,” she said. “I don’t know if it needs to now, either.”
The city last voted to increase council pay as part of a charter revision in 1995 that also created the current staggered four-year terms. For the 35 years prior to 1995, councilors were paid $50 a month.
If council pay kept pace with inflation, Bend’s councilors would be making $325 a month.
That would put Bend city councilors making slightly more than Redmond Mayor George Endicott, who earns $300 a month. Redmond city councilors make $200 a month.
Most elected officials in Oregon aren’t paid much, Endicott said. Most state legislators make $24,000. Gov. Kate Brown is among the lowest-paid governors in the country, and four of Oregon’s 10 highest-populated cities — Salem, Medford, Springfield and Corvallis — do not pay their elected officials.
The full-time elected mayor of Beaverton, population 95,685, makes nearly $177,000 a year. He works as the executive head of the Portland suburb’s government and has the power to appoint or fire city employees, submit an annual budget and act as the city’s purchasing agent.
The mayor of Portland, who made $134,326 as of December 2015, oversees 10 city departments, including the city attorney, the police and housing bureaus and the city budget office.
Mayors in Eugene, population 167,255, and Hillsboro, population 100,865, make more than $20,000 but less than $25,000. The mayor of Gresham, population 109,820, had a $50,000 salary approved in 2015 after going unpaid for eight years.
Endicott said low or no pay might make elected positions more enticing to retirees like himself who have the time to spend on unpaid work. The Redmond mayor, who’s been in office since 2009, said he’s able to do more than Roats, who works at his family’s water utility company as well as serving as mayor.
“The amount we get, it doesn’t even hardly cover gas for the meetings we go to,” Endicott said. “I don’t really care. I’m not in it for the money, obviously.”
Alan Unger, who served as mayor of Redmond from 2001 to 2009 and was a Deschutes County commissioner from 2009 until he lost his 2016 re-election bid, experienced both ends of the pay spectrum. As a full-time county commissioner, he made about $89,000 a year.
The commissioner job was more complicated and more work than his mayoral position, he said, but local elected officials should be paid more. If city leaders are not compensated, few people will have the time and ability to lead, Unger said.
“Being mayor was basically a half-time job,” he said. “It took me away from my family.”
He said pay of $1,000 a month is fair for an elected mayor of a city such as Redmond or Bend, provided the mayor meets higher expectations, including serving a four-year term, attending functions, engaging more with committees and working with the city council to create consensus on policy issues. That would put a mayor at an annual salary of $12,000 — about half as much as Eugene, but significantly higher than Central Oregon mayors are paid today.
“We’re smaller cities,” Unger said. “It doesn’t mean that the workload is less.”
A salary of about $40,000 would reflect the work Bend mayors and city councilors put in, former Bend Mayor Jim Clinton said. Clinton, who served as mayor from 2013 to 2017, said he spent between 20 and 50 hours a week on his city work.
In a news release announcing he would not run for re-election in 2016, Clinton lambasted the $200-a-month councilor pay as being “absurdly disconnected from the reality of being a modern city.”
“You cut out the potential pool of good candidates,” Clinton said. “Pay them $200 a month, and you’ll probably get a volunteer-like involvement out of them.”
Many city employees are well-compensated, Clinton noted. Bend City Manager Eric King was the fifth-highest-paid public employee in Deschutes County as of May, and another 41 city employees made more than $100,000 annually.
Paying Bend’s mayor and councilors won’t guarantee success, but it’s a step in the right direction, he said.
“It’s not a panacea to pay people more,” Clinton said. “You can look at highly paid officials from local to federal offices and see people who do a crappy job.”
Jeff Eager, who preceded Clinton as the mayor of Bend from 2011 to 2013, said the low pay was a factor in his decision not to run for re-election. During his time as mayor, Eager married his wife and planned to have children, and he said allocating a lot of his time to a mostly volunteer job while trying to start a family didn’t make sense.
However, he said he hasn’t made up his mind about what Bend’s elected officials should be paid. The idea of paying a mayor $50,000 or something similar is really too much, especially when the mayor position is still a part-time job, he said. That’s nearly as much as the Bend area’s median household income.
“Clearly, the $200 a month doesn’t in any way compensate people for the time they put in,” Eager said. “If you actually try to compensate people for their time, then it becomes a job.”
The charter review committee meets Tuesday at 4 p.m. in the board room of Bend City Hall and plans to spend about 45 minutes discussing mayor pay. The committee will also discuss whether an elected mayor should serve a two-year or four-year term and prepare for a Dec. 6 presentation to the Bend city council.
Councilors are expected to vote on the committee’s recommendations in early January, and voters will make the final decision on wards, a directly elected mayor and any other changes during a May election.
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