Per-meeting pay will not be capped
By Scott Bellile
Despite some opposition, the New London City Council passed an ordinance that will change how coucnil members and the mayor are paid.
At the beginning of the Dec. 12 council meeting, when the agenda was to be adopted, Second District Alderman Tom O’Connell moved to remove the second reading of the ordinance from that night’s agenda. Third District Alderwoman Lori Dean seconded the motion.
New London Mayor Gary Henke commented O’Connell’s motion was an “unusual move.”
“[O’Connell] thinks that it should be brought back to committee for more discussion,” Dean told Henke.
“But it’s already been discussed in committee for two months,” Henke replied. “Tom was at the committee meetings.”
“Yeah and I voted for it, but I changed my mind,” O’Connell said.
Henke said the second reading could not be delayed another month if the ordinance were to take effect May 1, 2018, after the spring elections.
With eight of 10 alderpersons present, the council then voted on whether to remove the ordinance reading from the agenda. The vote was split 4-4 with Fifth District Aldermen Dennis Herter and Dave Morack absent.
First District Alderman Robert Besaw and Second District Alderwoman Mary Tate voted with O’Connell and Dean to take the reading off the agenda.
Voting against the motion were First District Alderman John Faucher, Third District Alderman Mike Barrington and Fourth District Aldermen Ron Steinhorst and Rob Way.
Henke cast the tie-breaking vote that defeated O’Connell’s motion and kept the item on the agenda.
Later when the second ordinance reading occurred, the council approved it 5-3 without discussion. O’Connell joined the four previous supporters in voting yes.
What the ordinance states
Prior to the ordinance, alderpersons and the mayor were paid a flat salary of $4,000 and $6,400 per year, respectively. Meeting attendance was not a factor in the pay.
Beginning in May, alderpersons will instead receive a base compensation of $3,000 per year and the mayor $6,400 per year.
Beyond their base pay, an alderperson and mayor will receive $30 for every council or committee-at-large meeting attended, whether or not he or she sits on that committee.
A chairperson will receive an additional $5 for every meeting chaired.
Alderpersons and the mayor can be paid $30 or $35 for attending council meetings, special council meetings, budget committee, capital projects committee, board of public works, finance and personnel committee, parks and recreation committee and economic development committee.
Citizens who sit on the parks and recreation committee or the economic development committee but are not elected alderpersons will earn $30 for each monthly meeting attended. Citizen members are not paid a base salary, and until this ordinance was passed, their service was voluntary.
The pay debate
Morack, who chairs both the city council and the finance and personnel committee, explained at a Dec. 6 finance committee meeting why he supports incorporating per-meeting elements into salaries.
“First of all the goal is a better informed council [through] better attendance at committee meetings where we often have consultants to explain what’s happening,” Morack said. “So if an alderperson has questions or wants to provide input, that’s really the time, I think, to do it. By the time it gets to the council it’s pretty much cut and dry. Usually the consultant isn’t there and so forth.”
Morack acknowledged Tate’s and Besaw’s concerns that per-meeting attendance could encourage some alderpersons to attend every public government meeting and make excessive amounts of money.
To combat this possibility, Morack said he suggested but ultimately did not include in the draft ordinance a recommendation that an alderperson’s annual compensation be capped at $4,200.
He encouraged anyone worried about alderpersons “getting rich” to make a motion to establish a pay cap at the Dec. 12 city council meeting. He said he would not be attending and therefore could not do it himself.
Ultimately, no alderperson moved to set a limit on Dec. 12, so the ordinance was passed without a salary cap.
Tate, who said she believes civic engagement should be voluntary, told the finance committee she fears the possibility of per-meeting pay encouraging more people to run for council to earn a paycheck, saying these individuals may not put their hearts into the work.
“I haven’t seen the window flooded with people trying to sign up to run for any office so far,” Henke told her. “The money is still pretty minimal I think compared to the amount of time and effort put in.”
Henke pointed to the another reason the pay may not be everything to a prospective candidate: As mayor, he has take time off from his side job 24 times this year to tend to city hall matters.
More council considerations
At the same finance committee meeting, Morack encouraged his fellow alderpersons to consider how else the council could change its meeting structure to better serve alderpersons and the general public.
One example, he said, is New London could follow the Waupaca Common Council and have two nighttime council meetings per month.
This would involve eliminating the public works committee and the finance committee altogether and instead having those committees’ discussions occur at the council level.
The parks and recreation committee, the economic development committee and the planning commission would remain in place because those include citizen members.
Switching to bimonthly council meetings would benefit alderpersons because all 10 would be present to discuss public works and finance matters, rather than just those respective committees’ members.
Residents who attend city council meetings or watch them on public access television would also benefit from the change, Morack said.
For starters, an additional council meeting might be aired on TV and uploaded to the New London Access YouTube channel every month. The city currently does not film any committee meetings.
“If you’re somebody watching the TV, a resident or whatever, you sometimes wonder how we arrived at that decision,” Morack said of city council actions. “Without hearing the detailed discussion and whatnot [at the committee level], you really miss out on that.”
In addition, any discussion on finance or public works matters at a bimonthly council meeting would be more detailed and understandable to audiences because the alderpersons would be learning the topics along with the residents, Morack said. Without discussing those topics at the committee level beforehand, the decisions would not be “cut and dry” by council night.
Due to people’s work schedules, nighttime bimonthly council meetings could draw larger attendance from residents, Morack said. Currently the monthly council meeting is held at 7 p.m., whereas finance committee and public works committee are held at 4 p.m. and 4:30 p.m., respectively.
Besaw told the finance committee that more people may consider running for city council if they could guarantee being an alderperson would not interfere with their day jobs.
No action was taken on the matter.
Even if the council ultimately decides not to eliminate the two committees and introduce bimonthly council meetings, Henke encouraged the finance committee to change its meeting time to 7 p.m. on a trail basis next year and see if attendance increases.
Other city council approvals
The city council on Dec. 12 unanimously approved 8-0 the following items:
• A resolution requiring that revenue generated from New London’s recently approved wheel tax only be used to improve roads and sidewalks. Sidewalk work will only occur if an abutting road is reconstructed. This resolution is a response to residents’ and alderpersons’ concerns that a vaguely worded state law technically allows wheel tax dollars to be spent on improving public transportation systems and purchasing vehicles for city workers.
• Approximately $1.1 million in subcontractor bids to upgrade the HVAC, lighting, building envelope and pool filtration and chemical systems at New London Aquatic and Fitness Center next spring.
• Employing Chad Hoerth as director of public services at a probationary salary of $72,000 starting Jan. 1, 2018, to increase to $75,629 after six months. The position combines parks and recreation director and public works director into one. Hoerth has been parks director since 2007 and assumes the duties of former Public Works Director Jeff Bodoh.
• An engineering and construction agreement between the city of New London and Waupaca County for a joint reconstruction of 1 mile of County Highway D/Division Street in 2018. The county and the city will each pay 50 percent of the cost. The cost will be determined once the project is bid out.
• Hiring MSA Professional Services of Beaver Dam for $7,600 to bid out and oversee repairs to the retaining wall along the north bank of the Wolf River downtown. The work will happen next year.
• Closing the city clerk’s office on New Year’s Eve or the last weekday before New Year’s Eve beginning next year. The clerk’s office has traditionally opened for a half day on the New Year’s Eve workday for citizens to make last-minute tax payments.
• A $15,620 bid by Modern Flooring of New London to replace flooring in the New London Public Library and Museum basement and in the Washington Center activity room and office.
• An agreement with Boy Scout Troop 59 of New London to construct and place a life jacket lending station at the Riverside Park boat launch. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources will fund the project. The city will be responsible for winter maintenance and monitoring the life jacket inventory. Zackary Jones will build the station for his Eagle Scout project.