Council approves pay raises for itself
By ANNE LINDBERG
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 17, 2000
PINELLAS PARK -- A sharply divided City Council voted itself raises as high as 30 percent, to the outrage of a resident who complained that one member had missed so many meetings she should be kicked out of office rather than be given more money.
Beginning Oct. 1, council members' salaries will be $13,000 a year. That's a pay hike of $3,000 a year, or 30 percent over their current salaries. Mayor Bill Mischler's salary also will jump $3,000 a year for a 25 percent increase from his current pay of $12,000 a year.
The thought of salary increases especially incensed Pinellas Park resident Joel Woltman, who said the mayor and council members knew what they were getting into before they ran for office.
What really angered Woltman was the absentee record of council member Patricia Bailey-Snook, who has missed at least four regular meetings each year since 1998. She's also been absent from many workshops, particularly last year when she was missing from more than half of them. Workshops are the meetings the council holds to discuss matters among themselves and talk with city officials about the implications of matters that will come before them at regular meetings.
Bailey-Snook defended her attendance record, saying most council members are absent at one time or another.
Many of her absences, she said, have been caused by illness, whether hers or her father's.
"I've had 30 surgeries in less than three years because of the automobile accident," Bailey-Snook said. Bailey-Snook was in an automobile collision more than a year ago.
Even when she does not attend the workshops, she said, she reads her agenda and knows what's going on.
"He is way off base," she said. "My heart is in this city."
The council's move to increase salaries came virtually at the last minute as council members readied themselves to give final approval to Pinellas Park's 2000-01 budget.
The idea of a pay increase had been discussed during budget workshops early in the summer but had been discarded as "politically incorrect." That changed at last Tuesday's workshop when council member Rick Butler proposed the salary bump.
Mischler and Bailey-Snook agreed the pay should be higher. But council members Chuck Williams and Ed Taylor disagreed, saying they had run for office knowing what the pay was and that they were satisfied to have it remain the same.
Butler, Mischler and Bailey-Snook prevailed, however, and the item was placed on last Thursday's council agenda. When it came up for a vote, Bailey-Snook made the motion and Butler seconded it.
Williams and Taylor both announced that not only would they vote against the raise, but they would also refuse to accept it. They said the $6,000 from this year's raises could be used for other things that the city needs.
"I don't think it's right to change your salary in the middle of your term," Williams said.
He and Taylor both said if they decide to run for re-election, then they'd be willing to accept the higher salary. The voters would then have advance knowledge of the money they'd be paying for council members.
Mischler defended the raises, saying that the last raise council members received was in 1993. Had they gotten a raise every year, as do regular employees, they'd be making more now than the $13,000 and $15,000.
"I believe a lot of people out there think all we do is come to meetings," Mischler said. "Every night, every night, folks, excluding maybe Sunday . . . I am working."
Mischler said he gets 10 or more calls each day from constituents that he has to answer. He also has to attend meetings of other boards as well as groundbreakings, dinners and other activities.
"There's a lot more than just coming to meetings," he said. "No matter what we do, we're going to be criticized. I don't believe we're overpaid."
Woltman disagreed with that, particularly where Bailey-Snook was concerned because of her high absentee record.
"This is literally taking money out of the pockets" of Pinellas Park citizens, Woltman said.
Woltman did not name the member he had a problem with, but city documents show he had asked for a list of the meetings Bailey-Snook had missed since 1998.
The council has 21 workshops and 23 regular council meetings scheduled each year, according to city records. The council schedules other workshops and council meetings as needed.
In 1998, Bailey-Snook missed four workshops and four meetings, city records show. That means she missed 19 percent of the workshops and 17.4 percent of the regular meetings.
In 1999, Bailey-Snook's attendance record worsened. She missed 11, or more than half (52.3 percent), of the regularly scheduled workshops. She also missed four meetings.
Thus far this year, Bailey-Snook has missed eight workshops and four meetings.
Bailey-Snook said the numbers have been taken out of context. To get a real picture, she said, one would have to go back and see how many special workshops and meetings there were.
Others have also been absent from meetings, she said. The only member with perfect attendance so far is Butler.
Taylor missed one workshop and one council meeting in 1998. In 1999, he missed one workshop, Bailey-Snook said.
Williams missed four workshops and one council meeting in 1998. In 1999, he missed one workshop and one council meeting, she said. This year, he's missed one workshop and two council meetings.
Mischler has also missed some, Bailey-Snook said. In 1998, he missed three workshops and two council meetings. In 1999, it was four workshops and one meeting. So far, he's had perfect attendance in 2000.
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