Slot Machine Politics?
Way back in 2012, when “Il Duce”, Jerry Amante did his best to sabotage our town Tustin on his way out, he managed to talk the voters into foolishly voting for Measure HH that would end compensation for future generations of city councilmembers. I’m not sure how he managed to talk his cronies into it but, when it came to a vote, the residents of Tustin overwhelmingly chose to end the stipends and benefits for the incoming city council.
Granted, city council pay also included typical city employee benefits such as, paid healthcare and retirement contributions. And, while I would take issue with the benefits portion of compensation, I certainly had no problem with councilmembers making a few hundred dollars a month to oversee the city. Amante had already managed to eliminate nominal expenses for councilmembers in a previous executive action.
Some people at the time felt it was an all or nothing issue. I certainly didn’t. While health and retirement benefits should not be a part of council pay, a nominal stipend should be there to help pay for those expenses that any volunteer position incurs.
It took 8 long years but our trusty residents finally righted the wrong and returned reasonable stipends to the city council. We were fortunate there were enough civic minded candidates for the city council that we didn’t suffer those interim years from the lack of cash in the pocket. I did notice, however, there were an unusual number of candidates for the three council slots up for election when the stipends returned. Could it be…..nah…. They don’t care about the money. If they did, they would have investigated and found out that there was still money to be made in those lean years and that, sometimes, it makes the stipend look like a ten year old’s allowance.
What I am talking about, of course, is commission/committee assignments. Tustin doesn’t run in a vacuum. To make our community run, there are myriad boards, committees and well, clubs our councilmembers have to belong to.
Let’s see there is the Transportation Corridor Authority, otherwise known as the Toll Roads, there is the Orange County Sanitation District (who like to call themselves, OC San), and of course there is the OC Vector Control, known best for spraying chemicals around that do everything but kill the mosquitoes they were intended for.
All in all, there are a dozen assignments that are doled out annually by herhonor the mayor. And, some of them come with a hefty stipend. Take OC San, for instance. Meetings net the attendee $212.50 per and there can be as many as 6 meetings a month. In 2019, the latest reporting year for the Government Compensation website, one sanitation director made over $21,000 although the average seems to be closer to $7,500. Councilman Ryan Gallagher gets the big bucks this year, by the way.
The not so close runner(s) up are the Transportation Corridor Authority and the Southern California Association of Governments/OCCOG at paltry $120 each. Austin Lumbard and alternate Beckie Gomez are the recipients of the TCA stipend this year. SCAG hasn’t been decided yet, apparently.
There are others that pay lesser amounts.
All of this is not to say our public servants don’t deserve a little extra. However, most of the committee assignments with stipends also come with other personnel benefits and, like Tustin once did, maybe those need to be looked at. Since board members usually attend at least one meeting a month for each committee they sit on, the compensation can run several thousand dollars. In 2019, then Councilman Chuck Puckett received $6,120 plus mileage (according to the TCA website) for his time on their board.
By the way, Tustinites voted in a very reasonable $600 a month stipend. It is the maximum stipend by state law for cities of our size. And we can give kudos to Mayor Clark. Where her predecessors made no secret of rewarding cronyism with choice assignments, our current mayor has been thoughtful in who she chose for each assignment (except for the newbie, Gallagher….well, we’ll see). We wish them well.