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The controversy over new Manchester city charter provisions that give immediate pay raises to the mayor and aldermen didn’t have to happen.
The good news is, it can be solved.
Last year, an agency of the University of Tennessee known as the Municipal Technical Advisory Service came calling on Manchester officials, offering to help update our city charter.
Along with a variety of insignificant “housekeeping” changes, MTAS recommended the charter included pay raises for the city mayor and aldermen.
MTAS said we need to increase the pay for Manchester’s elected officials to bring Manchester in line with similar cities. Fair enough. Even though we need elected officials who seek office to help their community, not to earn a paycheck, even the higher pay rates aren’t outlandish.
But they must be delayed until after the next election, for two reasons. The first is, it is simply wrong for us to raise our own pay – that’s why both the current and the proposed charter prohibit the practice.
Also, we as a city cannot afford the $52,800 per year it will cost to give these raises to our elected officials. All city departments are currently under a spending freeze, cuts in departmental budgets for the next fiscal year may be necessary, and the city is likely to see a big increase in health-insurance costs next fiscal year.
The current city charter says the compensation of the Mayor and Aldermen “shall be set by ordinance” – and that no pay increase may be made effective “during the terms of office of the present Mayor or Aldermen, and for at least six (6) months after its passage.”
In simple terms, the current city charter makes it illegal for us to vote to raise our own pay. And, currently, the mayor is paid $800 and aldermen are paid $250 per month.
The new charter would set minimum pay rates and also allow the Board of Mayor and Aldermen to set higher pay rates by ordinance – and, again, forbid a current slate of aldermen from raising their own pay immediately.
But by including specific pay numbers, the new charter will, in effect, circumvent that ban on raising our own pay, by making the pay raises effective as soon as the charter is ratified.
When this became clear, Alderman Cheryl Swan proposed a resolution delaying the pay raise until after the next election, and also setting the aldermen’s pay at $500 per month.
This resolution failed on a tie vote after Manchester Mayor Lonnie Norman declined to break the tie.
But that doesn’t mean Mayor Norman, or any of we six aldermen, will be getting those pay raises.
The simple reason is this, that even if the charter revisions, now pending in the legislature, are passed by the state legislature and signed into law by the governor, the new charter won’t take effect until the Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen ratifies it with a two-thirds majority vote.
That means four of the six alderman must vote for it. But three of us – myself, Alderman Swan and Alderman Russell Bryan – are already on record opposing the immediate pay raises. If we stand firm and insist a new ordinance pass delaying the pay raises before we ratify the new charter, the controversial pay increases that have upset many in Manchester will not take effect.