Pay raises for high-ranking public officials are largely symbolic, but the symbolism can be powerful for rank-and-file public employees who are paid a lot less.
We say symbolic because a pay raise for a mayor, city council member or school board member in the vast majority of cases isn’t going to break a local government budget.
It might mean something to the individual, but it has little effect on the bottom line.
But an across-the-board pay raise for firemen, police or public works department employees can set local government back millions.
That’s not to say it’s easy to raise the pay for the reserved parking space set. They’re making critical decisions every time they go to a meeting. They can spend hours taking calls about the issues on their agenda. The amount of material they’re expected to read would shame the average Ph.D. candidate.
If the public wants to keep asking elected and high-ranking appointed public officials to continue making tough decisions, responsible people need to be installed in those jobs.
There’s no getting around the fact, however, that public employees who are being asked to forgo pay raises, pay higher insurance premiums and give up pension benefits (although the sacrifices are not unlike those that employees in the private sector have been making for years) consider it a slap in their face when the people who ask them to make those sacrifices get raises.
Anyone who expects the issue to go away will be disappointed.
In the case of full-time jobs that are providing enough pay to keep qualified candidates interested in public service, pay hikes seem unwarranted any time soon given current budgetary constraints.
In the case of part-time jobs, such as the school board and other legislative bodies – and certainly most mayoral and board positions as well – it may take a bit more than a token paycheck to attract the quality of leadership good government demands.
– Memphis Commercial Appeal