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Recent analysis finds City Council paid more than state guidelines suggest

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Persia Salehi/Staff


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AUGUST 07, 2011

While many city council members across the state of California are paid an annual salary within state guidelines, Berkeley City Council members are being paid higher than what is recommended, according to a recent analysis of data by the Los Angeles Times.

Although the analysis — released Aug. 2 — found that City Council members are being overpaid, state guidelines do not directly control the salaries for council members, said David Abel, the city’s human resources manager. He added that these state guidelines only apply to general law cities, and because Berkeley is a charter city, the guidelines are only recommendations.

A charter city does not have to follow the same guidelines as general law cities — which comprise about 75 percent of California cities — and has supreme authority over municipal affairs, including the right to establish its own council salary guidelines, according a California city resource file.

According to Berkeley’s city charter, the salary guidelines were set in 1998, setting a council member’s monthly salary at $1,800 and the mayor’s monthly salary at $2,850, both of which can be can be adjusted annually according to increases in the cost of living.

The analysis is based on data from 2009 and places a Berkeley council member’s annual salary at around $24,382 under the state guidelines. In reality, Berkeley council members were paid around $37,018, according to the analysis.

Abel said the current annual salary for a City Council member is $29,520, while the mayor’s salary is $46,764.

Councilmember Jesse Arreguin said the $37,018 salary figure reported in the analysis does not appropriately account for the average council member’s salary but likely includes the mayor’s salary, which would increase the average.

According to Arreguin, council members’ “take-home pay” after tax deductions and benefit contributions is $29,520, but this amount does not include work benefits such as health and retirement benefits, which can amount to $15,000 to $25,000, depending on how long the city official has been working.

Although City Council members receive this added compensation, both Arreguin and Councilmember Kriss Worthington said they struggle to survive off the part-time salary, adding that the work often requires the effort of a full-time job.

Arreguin and Worthington both said that even though a council member position is considered a part-time job, they do not hold other jobs outside of their city positions in hopes of fully dedicating their time to the Berkeley community.

“I am working more than 40 hours a week, and every day of the week, I am doing something related to my council position, whether it be talking to the city manager, going to community events, speaking with my constituents or working on legislation,” Arreguin said.

With his current salary, Councilmember Gordon Wozniak said he imagines that many would be unable or unwilling to run for a council member position.

“By paying low salaries, most citizens cannot contemplate running for office, since the council salary would not support them,” Wozniak said.

The city’s dynamic nature is an additional reason some City Council members may not feel adequately paid for their typical amount of work, said Anthony Sanchez, Arreguin’s chief of staff.

“Berkeley is known across the world to be crazy and frenetic — that is definitely the case,” Sanchez said. “Working in Berkeley is a full-contact sport.”

Clarifications: A previous version of the infographic attached to this article did not specify which figures represented the actual city council salaries and which figures represented the recommended city council salaries.

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AUGUST 08, 2011