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News / Clark County News

Press Talk: Stupid stuff from the salary commission

By Lou Brancaccio, Columbian Editor
Published: April 9, 2016, 6:05am

Just when you thought the county council had cornered the market on stupid stuff, the city of Vancouver decided it wants in on the fun.

Welcome to the city’s Salary Review Commission.

This is the group that is charged with deciding how much our part-time mayor and city councilors should make.

Maybe they should get a 10 percent raise? What about 30 or 40 percent? Hey, it’s almost like they’re playing with Monopoly dough.

You heard that right. The sky’s the limit as far as this group is concerned. They haven’t decided on a number just yet. But they’ve warned us all that it could be big!

Mayor Tim Leavitt currently makes just less than $28,000 a year, not counting benefits. When you ask Leavitt what he thinks he’s worth as mayor, he’ll tell you $100,000. When pressed, he will tell you that $100,000 is what he feels he’s worth, not necessarily what the position should pay. That figure, he suggests, should be in the $50,000 neighborhood.

Even worse, something much more serious and damaging has been exposed with all this crazy talk of big money: The appointed salary review commission has the power to literally change Vancouver’s government. It could move elected officials from being true public servants to being professional politicians.

In other words, a job.

More on that later.

A little background

Why do salary review commissions even exist? Politicians will tell you it’s to keep their hands off giving themselves big raises. But the real reason is to take the heat off of themselves.

And an organization like this salary commission gives politicians something more precious to them than a huge donation:

Plausible deniability.

They want to be able to tell voters, “Hey, don’t blame me, that wacky salary review commission gave me the big raise.”

Now, some might argue, what’s the alternative? For me, it’s pretty simple. The elected officials should give themselves a raise if they feel they deserve one. And then let their decision be part of the formula for deciding if residents want to vote them in the next time.

Possible huge sea shift

Earlier, I noted the power of money. How much one decides to pay a mayor and councilors will change the candidates for the job.

It literally could move the group from a civic-minded, community-first council to a bunch of people wondering how much money is in it for themselves.

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They would become professional politicians.

And one needs to look no further than our Congress to see what professional politicians have done for us.

Back in the day, there were no professional politicians. Elected officials truly were public servants. You’d become president of the United States, you’d do your four years, then you’d hop back onto your horse and head home to the farm.

Politics was never intended to be a career.

What about the facts?

I find it bemusing that governments often will do surveys ad nauseam to support why their guys should get more money. That’s — in part — how Vancouver’s city manager recently got a $30,000-a-year bump.

Fair enough. He has proven to be a quality manager.

Well, guess what? When all the comparisons were lined up for the mayor’s job here, it showed the position is already paid 63 percent more than the average for comparable cities.

And what was salary Commissioner Magan Reed’s response to those facts?

Reed — who works at the Port of Vancouver — said she simply wasn’t concerned about those comparable studies. She simply wants to do what is right for Vancouver.


When the facts work for you, use them.  When they don’t, simply ignore them.

Oh, by the way, do you know who appoints the salary commissioners to decide what the mayor earns? The mayor.

I’m not making this stuff up!

Seriously, guys — right after the salary commissioners run down here to buy their very own Don’t Do Stupid Stuff mugs — the city should begin the process of eliminating them.

There is simply no way an appointed body should have this much power.

Columbian Editor