by J Scott Christianson, Columbia Daily Tribune Columnist
Darwin Hindman has launched his fifth campaign for mayor by proposing two important changes to the Columbia City Council: expanding the number of representatives on the council and providing compensation for council members. Both issues are controversial, but if anyone can persuade voters to consider and approve these ideas, Hindman can.
Compensating council members is probably the more contentious of the two issues. Many folks I know will complain about how they are treated at their jobs but expect that someone who is elected should serve tirelessly with little or no compensation for their hard work. If we are the bosses of our elected officials — and I think we are — then some of us make pretty crappy bosses.
On the issue of compensation, outgoing Councilman Jim Loveless remarked, “We have managed to get fine people on the council without paying them.”
Look, even if we begin providing a small stipend to council members, no one is going to run for city council for the money. If you need a job, there are a lot of easier and better paying jobs to be had — jobs where you don’t have to raise $20,000 in campaign funds just to get the job and where you aren’t constantly in the eye of reporters and the public.
Providing compensation is important because it can open up the possibility of serving on the council to a wider group of people. I have talked with several folks who have considered running for the city council but decided they simply could not afford to pay for child care while they attended council meetings. For business owners, a stipend could help offset the loss to their business when they don’t get to work until noon on Tuesday because the Monday night council meeting lasted until 3 a.m.
Considering the amount of time that council members put in, a small stipend seems in order. And make no mistake giving city council members a stipend will still make them volunteers.
The number of city council members was set in 1946, when the population of Columbia was about 25,000 people. Today, Columbia’s population is estimated to be about 93,000 in the city proper, and it grows annually by 1,300 to 1,500 people. Every year, council members have more people to represent and serve. Constituent relations — listening to and trying to solve the problems of Columbia’s citizenry — become a larger burden for this group of…