A vote expected Monday by Atlanta City Council members on whether to increase their pay by about $20,000, or more than 50 percent, raises two somewhat incongruent questions.
Do they deserve the pay increase, either because of the hours they commit or because some peer cities pay more?
And if elected officials got such a substantial pay bump, would taxpayers see greater performance from the council?
Supporters say the pay bump, which would be the first in six years, would help ensure Atlanta attracts high-quality candidates. It would also bring Atlanta in line with what similar-size cities pay their elected officials.
But political scientists say there is no correlation between pay and council members’ competency and production. And approving raises to match what’s being paid elsewhere makes the faulty assumption that being a council member is like other jobs, where employees can be lured away by higher pay.
“This is an elected office, so you can’t just jump from Atlanta to Baltimore — the argument to have an equalization of salaries is not really there,” said Rohan Williamson, a professor of finance at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business who tracks executive pay. “That argument that, if we raise pay by $20,000, we’re going to get that much better a candidate, it doesn’t make sense.”
Council members, in interviews with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, say the raises are warranted given the time commitment the job demands. Council service is not defined as either a full- or part-time job, but the hours required to do city business makes outside employment challenging, they say.
Felicia Moore, chairwoman of the council’s finance/executive committee, said she sometimes doesn’t get home until 8 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays — committee meeting days — and often attends events on Saturdays. Then there are briefings, work sessions and other duties.
“It is a labor-intensive thing if you’re really going to put the time into it,” Moore said.
No pay increases since 2006
The raises would take effect in January 2014, after the November 2013 elections for mayor and the City Council.
The legislation would hike the council’s pay from $39,473 to $60,300, with pay for the council president — usually a nonvoting role — jumping from $41,000 to $62,000.
As written, the legislation also would boost the Atlanta mayor’s pay 25 percent, from $147,500 to $184,300. Mayor Kasim Reed, formerly an entertainment lawyer with the firm of Holland & Knight, has promised not to accept a pay increase while he is in office.
Read more: WSB-TV