At its Jan. 12 meeting, the council voted to postpone a decision on the salary increase, which was approved in 2006, until it reviewed the budget in June. At the Feb. 12 meeting, Finance Director Paul Abelson presented the council with a midyear budget review that showed there was money in the budget to implement the increase now. Last year, the council declined to accept the increase, and instead donated it to Oakley’s inaugural Relay For Life effort.
Mayor Pat Anderson said she put the ordinance to reinstate the increase back on the table so that council members had the option to donate their salary to local charities such as this year’s Oakley Relay For Life, which occurs in May, prior to the scheduled June review.
“I don’t think that this needs to be a big deal,” Anderson said. “If there are those of us that this increase, as it is called, will help us get through our monthly budgets, then so be it. If there are those of us who decide we wish to take that (money) and give it to a charitable organization, so be it.”
The council voted 5-0 to reinstate the increase, allowing council members to do what they wish with the funds. Council members will now receive $465.40 per month, up from the previous $300.
As they did in January, residents Paul Seger and Brad Nix spoke against the implementation of the increase. Seger once again asked the council to use the available funds to reinstate the Planning Commission, which was eliminated last year. He said the commission plays an essential role in community development projects and is needed for consultation on upcoming agenda items. Seger also said it would be wrong for the council as a whole to donate the people’s money to a charity, as it would be an act of socialism.
Councilwoman Carol Rios said she felt slighted by Seger’s comments. “I am a public servant. I take offense at the thought that this is public money. This is earned money. We spend many, many hours (doing council business outside the council chambers). No one has any idea of how many hours we spend going to meetings, being at events that we’re requested to be at. Gladly out of our hearts, we serve. … This is a job that is done out of the heart and we do it because we love our city.”
Vice Mayor Jim Frazier agreed with Rios on the long hours that are required of council members. He told the council that he has taken time off work to attend meetings and spends his own money to pay for accommodations when he attends meetings out of town, never seeking reimbursement.
Nix, like Seger, opposed the implementation of the increase and told the council it should hold with the January decision and wait until the budget review in June.
“Frankly, I urge you not to go forward,” Nix said. “Stick with your decision in January. Kudos to any of you who vote to do so and refuse this increase. Shame on you to any of you who accept it. This is wrong. This is very, very wrong.
“You should not be giving yourself a pay increase, particularly this much when you’ve got employees having that much of a pay cut. Next year are you going to ask for another 5-percent pay cut so that you can give yourself another 5-percent pay raise? This is insane. Public servants should not be profiting when everyone else is suffering. This is ill conceived.”
Anderson responded during the deliberation period by reading from a newspaper article quoting Nix following the Nov. 13, 2006 meeting at which the council voted for the salary increase. Nix was mayor at that time and supported the increase.
“This item is already in the budget,” Anderson explained. “We’re not suddenly doing a raise; it’s already budgeted in there, and we are trying to make a decision as to whether we should continue in abeyance or whether we move it (the funding) into the council salary.”
Councilman Bruce Connelley said Nix’s comments contradicted the ordinance Nix signed as mayor in 2006. As the increase was approved and in the budget, and the matter at hand was deciding what to do with those funds, Connelley accused Nix of making a mountain out of a molehill. According to Connelley, the Oakley City Council receives the lowest salary of all the city councils in Contra Costa County, and after 10 years of cityhood, it was time to give the council a raise.
City Manager Bryan Montgomery also weighed in on the situation, saying he was taking a moment to be “politically incorrect” and defend the council.
“If there’s anything abhorrent about that (the proposal to reinstate the increase), it’s abhorrent to somehow mislead the public that you’re giving yourself a salary raise. That’s not true. It’s a lie. For someone to stand at that pulpit and to say that is inaccurate and that same person is the one who signed the ordinance, Mr. Nix.
“So I think it’s time we start creating some civility in what the discussions are with the City Council. We get complaints all the time that we’re not communicating with the public. Well, it’s very difficult to communicate to the public when there are so many people out there misleading the public on what the facts are. So I, for one, am not going to continue to sit in this chair and allow people to stand before this body and disrespect you (the council) and tell stories about what the truth is.”
As the public comment period was closed, Nix didn’t get a chance to address the council a second time. In an interview with Nix this week, he clarified his comments. “I have always supported the salary increase,” he said, “but I voted for it when the economy was doing well and the council was moving full speed ahead, taking in a lot of late-night meetings. But now there have been layoffs and salary cuts for city staff. Don’t take a pay raise for yourself with these cuts going on. It’s the wrong time to instate the increase. I have no opposition to the pay increase. The council should be paid more, but this isn’t the right time. I would say put it off until June and look at it then or suspend the increase to next year.”
Following the council meeting last Tuesday, Montgomery approached Nix while he was talking with a friend in the lobby, and the two exchanged heated words regarding what happened in the council chambers during the salary increase discussion. Nix repeatedly asked Montgomery not to take cheap shots at him during public meetings; Montgomery said Nix needed to stop misleading the public, reiterating what he said during the council meeting. The brief confrontation ended when Montgomery walked away and returned to his office.
The next City Council meeting is scheduled for next Tuesday, Feb. 23.