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Cloverdale City Council votes itself a hefty raise

Cloverdale City Council members this week voted themselves a pay raise that will boost their monthly stipend by 85 percent, well beyond what most cities of similar size are paying their elected officials.

A divided council voted 3-2 to raise their pay from $300 to $555 per month. That amount is significantly more than the $250 to $300 per month that most cities of Cloverdale’s size pay their council members, according to the finance director.

It’s been 17 years since Cloverdale council members voted to raise their pay. And while all agreed a pay hike was in order, some said it was too much.

In effect, council members in Cloverdale, one of the smallest cities in Sonoma County, will be paid more than council members in any city other than Santa Rosa, where council members make $800, but also meet twice as often as Cloverdale. The Santa Rosa mayor gets $1,200 monthly.

In Petaluma, the lowest paying city for elected officials, the mayor receives $10 per meeting while other council members get $5.

“Relative to other cities, it’s one hell of a jump,” said Cloverdale City Councilman Bob Cox, who suggested a $50 to $100 raise was more appropriate.

He was joined in the dissent by Councilwoman Carol Russell, who said, “I don’t think it’s appropriate for us to go anywhere near $555 per month.”

But Councilman Gus Wolter, who was part of the majority, said the pay raise was long overdue. “None of our employees in the city go 17 years without a pay increase. The City Council should not be expected to,” he said.

The issue prompted a discussion about the duties of council members and the hours they devote to the job, which they said can easily amount to an average of 25 to 30 hours a week and go well beyond the two council meetings per month.

As in most other cities, council members in Cloverdale receive medical coverage.

Council members acknowledged the low remuneration and the expected time commitment limits the number of people who can serve, particularly if they need to arrange child care.

But for the November election, there is no lack of candidates, with eight people running for two seats, including the incumbents.

Current Cloverdale council members are all over 60 years old and either retired or semi-retired.

“Most of us serve on a lot of boards and a lot of commissions and we do a lot of work outside these two meetings a month,” said Councilman Joe Palla, a retired police chief who supported the new pay level.

Mary Ann Brigham, the third council member to support the pay hike, said mayors of bigger towns “almost have secretaries” compared to council members in Cloverdale, who try not to use up much staff time.

Palla argued that there are many costs council members incur that are not reimbursed, from gasoline to ink cartridges and paper.

While they could ask for expense reimbursements, he said that would generate more work for city staff.

“This really isn’t a salary. It’s to reimburse us for our costs,” he said.

The two people who spoke on the issue Tuesday night were split on whether to raise the pay to $555.

Sean Bovee, an alternate city planning commissioner, told the council they “deserve every penny.”

But Walter Gendell, who said he worked as a compensation professional for corporations, said there will be a “ratcheting up,” with pay for council members in other cities escalating.

City Attorney Jose Sanchez said under state government code, cities with less than 35,000 population have a maximum council pay set at $300 per month, but can increase it by 5 percent for every year from the last time compensation was adjusted. In Cloverdale, where council members last got a raise in 1998, that amounts to the extra $255, approved by the council majority.

The extra pay takes effect in December.

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 707-521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter@clarkmas

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