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SD City Council Votes Down Recommended Salary Increase

Robert Ottilie, Salary Setting Commission
San Diego city leaders make less than those in the private sector. Should they get a raise? We take a look.
GUESTS Robert Ottilie, chairman, San Diego Salary Setting Commission Donna Frye, former San Diego City Council member

The San Diego City Council today unanimously rejected a proposal to raise their pay and that of the city's mayor to more than double their current salaries.

The city's Salary Setting Commission proposed that council members be paid $175,000 for the next two fiscal years starting July 1, and that the mayor receive an annual salary of $235,000.

"It's a joke to even think that we would vote for this," said Councilman David Alvarez. "I don't think anybody on this council ran for council thinking that they were going to make a lot of money. Nobody's here to get rich."

Councilmembers currently make $75,386, while the mayor makes $100,464. Neither position has seen a raise in almost a decade.

Robert Ottilie, the chairman of the Salary Setting Commission, told KPBS his proposal to raise salaries should be heeded.

“We don’t consider this to be a proposal for a raise, we consider it to be a salary adjustment to get more in line with where those salaries should be,” he said.

Ottilie said those salaries would allow people who’ve been successful in the nonprofit or private sector to take public service jobs for four or eight years without dipping into their savings.

“Because you know what, people aren’t going to do that,” he said. “So what we’ve done is limited our candidate pool to the point where what we have running for office are relatively young, inexperienced people that want to make it a career, that haven’t yet been successful with large businesses, or independently wealthy people.

“And let’s face it, the city of San Diego is the largest business in the city.”

Even with a raise, councilmembers in San Diego make less than councilmembers in Los Angeles, Ottilie said. He added that San Diego County supervisors make $143,000.

“So we’re not even close to what other jurisdictions are paying,” he said.

In the 2010 calendar year, 3,528 city workers took home more money than council members, including 33 lifeguards, according to Ottilie.

Ottilie blamed political fear for why councilmembers vote down raises, and said at first, his panel “thought we shouldn’t waste our time because they won’t vote for a raise.”

Instead, the panel presented two proposals for the City Council to vote on first. One is to change the rules so that a vote on raises would not include existing councilmembers.

The second is a charter amendment to take away the rule that councilmembers have to vote on their own pay.

“No one else votes on their own pay,” Ottilie said. “We don’t do that in the private or nonprofit sector. Why should we make them do that? It’s really unfair.”

At the meeting, Councilman Carl DeMaio said a charter amendment, which could cost about $500,000, was premature.

Ottilie told KPBS that the potential for salary freezes that would come if the pension reform initiative is passed mean “things are only going to get worse economically at the city.”

What questions do you have about the Statewide General Election coming up on Nov. 8? Submit your questions here, and we'll try to answer them in our reporting.