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Issue Of Elected Officials' Salaries Headed To San Diego City Council

San Diego City Council members Todd Gloria and Sherri Lightner share a stage with Mayor Kevin Falconer during the council inauguration ceremony, Dec. 10, 2014.
Angela Carone
San Diego City Council members Todd Gloria and Sherri Lightner share a stage with Mayor Kevin Falconer during the council inauguration ceremony, Dec. 10, 2014.

Issue Of Elected Officials' Salaries Headed To San Diego City Council
Right now, the City Council votes on whether to give itself a raise. That’s awkward for politicians, and so they haven’t approved an increase in 13 years.

San Diego City Council members will get to consider changing the way their salaries are set following a council committee vote on Thursday.

Every two years the council considers a recommendation made by a salary setting commission and then votes on whether to give itself a raise.


The commission often recommends city leaders get more pay, but that's an awkward vote for elected officials to make. The City Council hasn't given itself or the mayor a pay raise in 12 years.

Last month, the San Diego County grand jury said that since 2003 base compensation for the mayor has been frozen at $100,464 and for council members at $75,386.

Bob Ottilie, chairman of the city's Salary Setting Commission, has long argued that low pay could dissuade potentially talented candidates from running because they aren't able or willing to take a pay cut.

The way elected officials are paid is written into the city’s charter, which acts like the city’s constitution. This year, the council's Charter Review Committee is considering potential changes, including how elected officials are paid. The grand jury report asked the committee to look into the salary issue and develop a ballot measure for next year.

Ottilie told the committee on Thursday that elected officials' pay should be tied to judges' pay, so they'll get a raise when judges get a raise.


"When you tie it to judge salaries, the nice thing is the increases are tied to the average increase of state workers," he said. "So once you lock it in, it’s locked. You’re never going to be embarrassed by substantial raises again."

He said salaries for the San Diego County Board of Supervisors are tied to judges' salaries and “there’s never been a newspaper story on supervisors’ salaries since then.”

The Charter Review Committee did not make a recommendation, but voted 3-0 to refer to the full City Council a response from the Independent Budget Analyst to the grand jury report. The city is required to respond to grand jury reports. Freshman Councilman Chris Cate, vice chairmain of the committee, asked the salary setting commission to provide information to the city's legislative affairs office before the item comes before the full City Council.

None of the three committee members — Cate, Councilman Mark Kersey and Council President Sherri Lightner, who chairs the committee — commented further on the salary issue. Councilwoman Marti Emerald is on the committee but was absent Thursday.

The Charter Review Committee will meet once a month this year to consider numerous changes to San Diego's 84-year-old charter.

Elected officials found flaws in the document in 2013 as officials and the public searched for ways to remove then-scandal plagued Mayor Bob Filner from office. City Attorney Jan Goldsmith has called the charter "ambiguous, outdated and incomplete."

Other piecemeal charter updates have been made, including a ballot measure that changed election deadlines, but this committee will review the entire charter. All changes they recommend will have to be approved by voters in 2016.

Elected officials have sent memos to Lightner suggesting other changes, including ending free trash pickup and increasing transparency in the city's ballot measure approval process.

At the start of Thursday's meeting, Lightner proposed grouping all future meetings by subject, with the April meeting focusing on finance. Cate asked that the schedule be released to the public, and Lightner agreed.

The City Attorney's Office recommended that changes be made in separate ballot measures, instead of just one ballot measure with all of the changes. Deputy City Attorney Sharon Spivak said the ballot measures could be grouped by subject, so all changes to one charter section could be made with one measure. Still, that could mean a lot of measures for voters to consider in 2016.

Corrected: June 30, 2022 at 5:52 PM PDT
This story has been updated to clarify the action taken by the Charter Review Committee. City News Service contributed to this report.