Voters, not council, should okay pay raise

A Times Editorial
Published December 18, 2006

We don't know if Frankie Burnett has been naughty or nice, but he shouldn't expect Brooksville residents to pay the price. Burnett, who is entering his third year on the City Council, has proposed raising council members' salaries to $13,312 a year, which is more than double the $5,400 each receives now.

Burnett's reasoning is that council members should be paid the minimum wage of $6.40 an hour for a 40-hour work week. The council is scheduled to discuss Burnett's proposal at a meeting tonight.

Given that it is only a week before Christmas, we can't resist the opportunity to invoke a resounding "Humbug!"

If Burnett, who has been mostly inaccessible and uninspired since he was elected two years ago, wants to be paid for a 40-hour work week, let him follow the lead of other minimum-wage earners and document how much time he spends on the job. He can provide a detailed list of where he goes and to whom he speaks while on council business. That way, residents can verify just how busy he is.

Such detail would be revealing, especially to council members who say they spend far less than 40 hours on the job, and others who say that even though they spend that much time on council business, they don't expect to be paid an hourly wage.

Council members already are allowed to file for reimbursement of expenses, including mileage. They also are able to obtain health insurance and retirement benefits. That's all on top of their $5,400 salary. That is a healthy compensation package for a job that requires no qualifications except that the officeholder be 18 years old, a city resident and not a felon.

If council members want a pay raise, they should ask voters in the city if they have earned it. Put the question on the ballot in 2008 and agree to abide by the outcome. Chances are if the increase is modest - and much less than Burnett proposes - voters who approve of the council's performance will okay it. If voters do not, it sends a clear message to council members that they are not meeting the public's expectations.

But it would be incredibly presumptuous of council members to more than double their salary without having some indication from voters that it is deserved.

A modest increase might be in order. Call it a cost-of-living raise. But this proposal is excessive and suggests that, during this traditional season of giving, Burnett's vision of sugar plums has gone to his head.