Aug. 12, 2001
Taxpayers will pay an additional $138,000 over the next four years to cover the cost of pay raises for Mayor John Robert Smith and members of the Meridian city council. The pay raises were approved last year and took effect on July 1.
In their zeal to raise their own pay, Meridian Mayor John Robert Smith and members of the city council have sent a terribly negative message to the community. The message is they don't care about perception, symbolism or even reality.
The message is they don't care that firefighters' families qualify for food stamps, that many police officers don't make a livable wage, that a tax increase is going to be needed to make budgetary ends meet. The message is they don't care that high taxes are already driving people out of the city. The message is they are rewarding themselves with fatter paychecks with no accompanying improvement in performance.
They raised the pay of the mayor by 25 percent to $75,000 and the pay of councilmen by 28 percent to $16,000. Council president Dr. George Thomas got a 21 percent raise to $20,000.
What could have been
The extra $138,000 these pay raises will cost taxpayers over the next four years could have funded programs threatened by the current budget crunch, maybe part of the city's contributions to State Games or the Jimmie Rodgers Festival.
The pay raises our fearless city officials have given themselves could have paid the starting salaries of half a dozen new police officers for a year.
The pay raises the mayor and councilmen gave themselves could put eight firefighters on the job.
When the subject turns to their own pay, politicians have a tendency to shoot themselves in the foot, and our city officials are not immune. They have widened the chasm between the elitist politicians who make the rules and everyone else. Just at a time when they want the community to come together, they are driving it apart.
What gets into people who, before their election to public office, are presumed to be logical human beings.
It's easy cover for politicians to characterize the raises as just making up for lost ground. They haven't had a raise in a while.
But in a larger sense, how can citizens take seriously the budget shortfall and proposed property tax increase when city leaders act like they have all the money in the world?
They will come up with a million reasons to justify their higher pay. They will say the action was taken last year, to take effect this year, and it was. They will argue the last mayor and council took the action, before the election, so voters had plenty of time to consider it if they wanted to. That's true, too. They will argue that public service is tough these days, that there are many, many demands on their time. Isn't that always the case. They will argue they're doing the best they can.
But city officials who place such a high value on their own pay over every other category of city government spending are not good stewards.
Give it back
The noble thing to do, of course, in this time of so-called budget austerity and in the best interests of Meridian taxpayers is for the mayor and city councilmen to decline the pay raises. Just say no. Hold the line on executive pay. Send a positive message.
Which of the current elected officials in the city of Meridian have the courage to do that?