Thursday, December 05, 2013 2:09 AM
Published on: Thursday, September 26, 2013
By Holden Wilen
A seven-person citizens’ advisory committee has recommended an increase in compensation for the Montgomery County council members and county executive after the 2014 election due to the complexity of the jobs and increased workloads.
The council appointed the committee, which consists of six Democrats and one Republican, in February. After months of studying and deliberating, the committee issued its report on Sept. 13, recommending the compensation for county council members increase from $104,022 to $125,000—an increase of more than 20 percent. The committee also recommended increasing the county executive’s salary from $180,250 to $190,000.
Cristina Echavarren, a Chevy Chase resident and chair of the committee, said the group considered the responsibilities of council members and determined in the end the demands of the job are much greater than in the past because the county’s population has grown to more than one million people and become more diverse.
“We have gotten bigger, gotten more diverse and we have grown in terms of commerce and development. All of those factors create for a much more complex decision-making process in terms of deciding zoning, transportation, budgets and different interest groups,” Echavarren said. “All of that puts a lot of pressure on the county council. It requires for them to be up to date on a variety of different topics. We felt that $106,000 was not enough. You have all these diverse groups that want their interests to be represented. That means the county is addressing a variety of different opinions on what needs to be done.”
Council members work more than 40 hours a week, Echavarren said, and they need to be compensated for the work they do.
Jeffrey Slavin, the mayor of Somerset and another member of the committee, said it is important to have a competitive salary in order to attract the best candidates to run for office.
“I want to see a council that is representative of the population, not the people that can afford to run for the office. I want somebody to run and not have to worry about the fact that they might not be able to support their family,” Slavin said. “You are not getting a representative council (if salaries are too low). You are only going to get the people that can afford to, higher income people. That is not representative of the county.”
According to the committee’s report, the median household income in Montgomery County is $95,660 and the self-sufficiency standard for a family of four living in the county is $82,877.
The committee made a presentation on Tuesday to the county council, and several council members voiced their opinions on the issue, though Council President Nancy Navarro reminded her colleagues the issue would be discussed and voted on at a later date.
Councilwoman Valerie Ervin said the decision of whether or not to run for office is often difficult for those who do not come from wealthy backgrounds.
“If we want to operate in a full democracy then we have to give opportunity for all people that want to serve the public,” Ervin said. “When people start looking at salaries before they make a decision to run for office, you start to see a whole lot of people opting out because you have to be able to make a living.”
People do not understand the sacrifices elected officials have to make, Councilman Craig Rice said, and it is important not to minimize the work elected officials do.
“The second we (belittle the work elected officials do) is the second we start to tear up the things we were talking about at the beginning of the day—representation and democracy and making sure we are doing all the right things that we can to make sure that we have a better society.”
Councilmember Phil Andrews, on the other hand, said he would be uncomfortable giving such a substantial compensation increase at one time. Andrews prefers implementing a gradual increase over time instead of doing it in “one fell swoop.”
“A 17 percent increase is not one we should adopt,” Andrews said. “I am in favor of an increase but it needs to be more sustainable and not impact other areas of government.”