Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

Departing commissioner urges debate on increasing pay of Lawrence city commissioners

April 9, 2013


As City Commissioner Aron Cromwell completes the final days of his term, he has a parting thought: Lawrence city commissioner really ought to be paid more.

Cromwell at Tuesday night’s meeting urged the next group of city commissioners to seriously discuss a pay raise that perhaps would more than triple the current $9,000 per year salary that commissioners receive.

“Right now, I think it would be very difficult for somebody like a schoolteacher or someone with a traditional job to take this position,” Cromwell said. “You probably would have to take a leave of absence to do the job effectively.”

After the meeting, Cromwell said he thought the next city commission should consider raising the annual salary to somewhere between $25,000 and $35,000 per year.

At least two commissioners are open to having the discussion. Mayor Bob Schumm said he thought it is an issue the next commission “should look at fairly quickly.”

City Commissioner Mike Dever — who if tradition holds will be elected mayor by his fellow commissioners at next week’s meeting — said he thought the time was right to consider the issue. The city has not raised its pay for commissioners — $9,000 per year for commissioners and $10,000 for the mayor position — since 1999.

“We don’t do it for the money,” Dever said, “but I agree that the amount of time it takes to do this job is not commensurate with the pay.”

Dever said he would present some information about how much commissioners are paid in other communities. Douglas County commissioners, for example, are paid more than $30,000 a year, he said.

“I would say, at a minimum, we spend an equal amount of time,” Dever said.

City Commissioner Mike Amyx — who recently was re-elected to a fifth term on the commission — expressed concern about boosting the pay.

“We need to make sure that we don’t cross that line of having full-time commissioners down here,” Amyx said. “We are all citizen commissioners, and that is the charter that we operate under.”

Other commissioners agreed that the job should continue to be viewed as a part-time profession. But Cromwell said the salary is likely a barrier to entry for many people. He estimated an average commissioner had at least $4,000 a year in expenses, such as transportation, wireless phone bills, Internet service and other such items that are routinely used as part of the position but aren’t reimbursed by the city.

“I think a salary for a city commissioner ought to be enough to cover our expenses and pay a baby sitter while you are at the meetings,” Cromwell said. “It is not currently.”

On the current commission, four of the five commissioners are business owners, while the fifth — Commissioner Hugh Carter — was a financial adviser with a flexible schedule during the bulk of his term.

Cromwell and Carter both will be leaving the commission — neither sought re-election — after next week’s meeting. Recent election winners Jeremy Farmer, the executive director of the food bank Just Food, and Terry Riordan, a Lawrence physician, will be sworn in next week.

In other news from Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners unanimously approved $9.7 million in bids for the library expansion project.


Brian Hall 5 years, 2 months ago

I always figured the salary was low so as to keep people from becoming career politicians and claiming "city commissioner" as their job. Raising salaries up to $25-35,000 may convince some commissioner wannabe that they don't need to keep their day job after being elected. If salaries are going to be raised, I'd say at least to $12,000. At most, $15,000.

cowboy 5 years, 2 months ago

How bout we do a survey at the end of their term and decide whether they earned anything or not.

The commission has become a rubber stamp and pet project committee. When was the last time any commission initiative saved any money ? When was the last time the commission initiated any efficiency programs in city operations ? The truth be told they sit around and react to what it put before them by the city manager and a parade of vested interests.

Get rid of them !

Give us a four year mayor !

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 2 months ago

"Potential commission candidates should be screened and only be eligible to enter the race if they are financially stable."

So you want to make sure that only wealthy (and/or retired) people can serve on the commission? How about a requirement that they are landed gentry, as well?

"Champaign contributions also should be controlled with a maximum acceptable limit."

I agree.

jafs 5 years, 2 months ago

Yeah, we don't want those guys getting too much champagne, that's for sure.

Carol Bowen 5 years, 2 months ago

One Eye. Where does the article say that the commissioners would want health insurance and KPERS?

Richard Heckler 5 years, 2 months ago

Let the taxpayers vote on this. City Commissioners voting to increase their own pay is a major conflict of interest and unethical. The answer is NO to allowing commissioners to raise their own pay.

This question should be on the next ballot as a matter of ethics.

Anyone who goes after this job knows the pay scale.

Catalano 5 years, 2 months ago

Jeebus, Merrill...look what kind of city commission we get when it's a bunch of white guys who own their own business. Or are in top management jobs and are salaried and can have flexible work hours (e.g. Chestnut). A "citizen" commissioner would be somebody who would need reimbursement to cover the hours of lost time at work (IF their boss even granted such a luxury in the first place) AND expenses. (Yeah, I have a cell phone, but only have the minimum number of minutes, which I'm sure wouldn't cover the cost of commission-related phone calls.)

Carol Bowen 5 years, 2 months ago

The U.S. congress votes on its own pay. I don't know about the state legislature. Identifying the funds is important.

jafs 5 years, 2 months ago

Yes, and they shouldn't be able to do that either - it's absurd.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 2 months ago

"“We need to make sure that we don’t cross that line of having full-time commissioners down here,” Amyx said. “We are all citizen commissioners, and that is the charter that we operate under.”

Mike Amyx has been a commissioner so many times. He has been both a county and city commissioner with a total of close to 20 years I'm estimating.

Still I say put this to a vote by the taxpayers....

deec 5 years, 2 months ago

"He estimated an average commissioner had at least $4,000 a year in expenses, such as transportation, wireless phone bills, Internet service and other such items that are routinely used as part of the position but aren’t reimbursed by the city." Is he suggesting the commissioners wouldn't have cell phones or internet service if they weren't commissioners?

The annual salary works out to about 23 hours per week at minimum wage. There are plenty of citizens of Lawrence who are working in the private sector who manage to survive on those wages.

been_there 5 years, 2 months ago

Agreed. You can be darn sure they are claiming those expenses (plus a few others) on their income tax refund. How about any raise be taken out of Corliss's pay. Isn't that why we have a city manager and all his support staff, so the Commissioners won't have to spend too much time on things?

Carol Bowen 5 years, 2 months ago

The only scenarios I am aware of for tax deductions are in your business or donating to a 501 3C (non profit organizion).

btsflk 5 years, 2 months ago

Sure, how about a pension and life-time health insurance.

While the city pays a little better wage than businesses overall, I'd be more interested in a city backed initative to raise wages overall in Lawrence. $8-$10 an hour is not a living wage.

Allowing them to raise their own wage is stupidity.

But then, this is a rich man's town.

btsflk 5 years, 2 months ago

Some of us exist here on $25,000 and less. Sound impossible? We find it hard to believe it, too.

Before anyone starts screaming about social services, in this case there are none. Before the recession, had a somewhat decent wage - no longer.

When our leaders are treated like kings, they begin to believe they are, and those lesser become invisible.

Catalano 5 years, 2 months ago

So does everyone here object to the salaries of the County Commissioners?

jcstepmom 5 years, 2 months ago

I have a problem with the salary of most elected officials. They should be paid no more than they need to be reimbursed for nominal expenses.

jafs 5 years, 2 months ago

Really? They should all just do their jobs for free?

bad_dog 5 years, 2 months ago

Well, it really isn't their "job" and they did seek the "work" voluntarily.

I'm not saying they should offer their "services" for free. but $25-35K? No way. But I guess that is what you should expect from someone that actually believes they incurred $4k/year in cell, internet and travel expenses associated solely with their official duties.

jafs 5 years, 2 months ago

It is clearly a lot of work.

I agree that $25-35K is high, for what is essentially a part time job, and I don't know how he got to $4K in expenses as well.

bad_dog 5 years, 2 months ago

I agree. It is a lot of work and it is not a huge sum of money. If a candidate doesn't recognize that going in, surely they do so by the end of their 1st terms. Nevertheless, there hasn't been a shortage of candidates at the going rates. To me, if we are to give meaning to the term "public servant" it seems remuneration for such a position should consist of the satisfaction and goodwill one gets from doing a good job, i.e. making their community a better place to live as well as the financial compensation. If they don't feel adequately compensated as is, no one prevents them from resigning or not seeking re-election. It works the same way in the world of employment. Don't feel adequately compensated? Don't like the conditions? Choose another line of work or a different employer.

jafs 5 years, 2 months ago

Well, maybe.

But, just as I think that teachers and social workers should be adequately compensated, even though their work involves some inherent satisfaction, I think the same of public servants.

If we don't do that, then who can afford to run for public office? The already wealthy? Also, of course, it increases the real possibility of corruption and the influence of moneyed interests in politics, which is a bad thing.

Catalano 5 years, 2 months ago

Consider that DR Terry Riordan virtually bought his own commission seat by contributing $18K to his campaign.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 2 months ago

The current compensation is certainly not lost on the great majority of people who might consider running for the commission, but don't have the wealth or flexible employment situation that would allow them to serve. Why else do you think that our commissions have been so dominated by the development/growth industries for the last several decades? (hint: they know they have way more to gain through serving than just the paltry salary.)

mom_of_three 5 years, 2 months ago

$35,000 is $16.82 an hour for 40 hours a week..
now, lots of people don't make that much for a regular job...

gatekeeper 5 years, 2 months ago

You kill me. I left teaching for a middle-management job because the pay was so low and I was sick of living in debt. yep, those darned, high salaried teachers!!! Remember too that those high-paid teachers are buying lots of supplies out of pocket that they aren't ever reimbursed for. Out of the 20 or so people I was friends with in the school of Ed at KU, only one is still teaching after almost 20 years. If the pay is so great, why are teachers leaving the profession for better jobs?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 2 months ago

Do you really think that our developer-dominated commissions relies solely on the paltry salary for compensation? All too often, it's a career move, and the results of that situation are pretty obvious.

Carol Bowen 5 years, 2 months ago

  • City commissioners spend lot of time communicating with us via phone, email, letters, visits, and presentations.
  • Commissioners have to study and interpret budget, ordinances, development codes, planning documents, and other legalities.
  • Meetings are weekly. Commission attendance has been very good. These meetings start at 6:45 pm and last until business is done, sometimes very late.
  • in addition to commission meetings, commissioners attend study sessions, task forces, subcommittees, ...
  • then, there's representing the community at the state and national level.
  • Not ever commissioner gets release time from work.

Picture yourself as a commissioner, learning the job under fire. If a commissioner must do this on their own time, we are limiting the pool of candidates, because most of us could not afford the time and the commitment. If you choose not to run for city commission, is it because of the overwhelming fear of winning a seat? I know I could not be a commissioner. No problem. We are lucky some Lawrencians are willing to represent us. If you do not like the commissioners, take the responsibility to run yourself or work for a candidate you support.

Carol Bowen 5 years, 2 months ago

  • I have not read much county commission news. Do they meet weekly? I suspect they are paid too much.

  • The city commissioners do not receive enough compensation for expenses and time. $25-35k is a rather drastic increase. Something around $15k would be more palatable. that would be an increase of $24k for commissioners and maybe an increase of $8k for the mayor for a total increase of $32k.

  • The money should be identified first. Fewer paper clips?

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