Milwaukie considers salaries for elected officials
Due to a low response rate, Milwaukie city officials will have to wait until this fall for a ruling from a Citizens Jury on Council Compensation.
Before a potential vote on increasing pay for city councilors, Milwaukie officials had asked a nonpartisan group called Healthy Democracy to conduct a scaled-down version of the group's previous panels that deliberate on statewide issues.
In holding citizen juries, Healthy Democracy relies on randomly selected and demographically representative samples of the citizens who would be affected by the issue.
Invitations sent in June to 5,000 randomly selected Milwaukie households resulted in Healthy Democracy's lowest-ever response rate of just 1.4%. Healthy Democracy officials said the sample of approximately 70 respondents was insufficient to select a demographically reflective panel and, in particular, it would have been impossible to select 20 panelists whose age and educational attainment match the attributes of the city's overall population.
Linn Davis, the project manager for Healthy Democracy, confirmed that the Milwaukie citizens jury has been postponed until fall due to the low response rate.
"This is a pilot project — and the first-ever local government citizens jury in Oregon — and its scope is limited to this single question on pay for council members and the mayor," Davis said. "That question, of course, is deceptively simple, but it is the only question before the panel. They will hear from a range of experts, review briefing materials from the city, and deliberate on a recommendation for council."
City may bump up pay after future elections
Milwaukie city councilors currently get a monthly stipend of $250, with the mayor receiving $300 a month. Milwaukie councilors each get a Microsoft Surface laptop, and the entire council has an annual budget of $9,500 for trainings, memberships and conferences.
Milwaukie Mayor Mark Gamba said he doesn't expect the City Council to find new funds for himself or any other of the city's current elected officials. He said he would like to reduce barriers to public service for citizens considering running for City Council in future elections.
"Our state and local systems of government are designed to restrict leadership and policy-making positions typically to older, upper-middle-class white people," Gamba said. "It's common sense that the time it takes to do the job well of being an elected representative at any level is not something a young professional with a demanding career, let alone a single working mother of color, can commit to and still maintain a reasonable life for their family unless their time is compensated."
Future city councilors would not get rich, according to Gamba's vision for Milwaukie's compensation of its elected officials. He says that being a good mayor of a small town is at least a full-time job (half-time for city councilors), and he would like Milwaukie to set the stage for discussions statewide.
"Our state representatives are paid $24,000 a year — that's insane — the amount of time it requires to do that job well far exceeds that amount of money, and so, by virtue of that fact, you are limiting who can serve," he said.
Gamba made his comments during a discussion last December when Milwaukie's elected officials authorized Healthy Democracy to proceed with the citizen jury project. Milwaukie Councilor Lisa Batey said she was not averse to having a discussion about future council compensation, but she would like to see citizens vote on a series of proposed charter changes that creates job descriptions for the City Council, along with fixing miscellaneous other charter issues.
"I would push back a little bit on who serves; we only have one retiree on the current council," she said. "Since I've been engaged with Milwaukie in 2004, we've had a nurse, a roofer, a high school teacher, a guy who runs a garage, a guy who drives a TriMet train. We've had a variety of people in a variety of professions who have made it work."
Gamba said that he didn't think a charter change was necessary, since the City Council's current compensation isn't in the charter. He believes that if the compensation issue were tied to charter review, it wouldn't be resolved in time for the next couple of election cycles. He also disagreed with Batey as to how well the previous professionals were able to serve Milwaukie citizens on the council.
'Current' resident mailers ignored?
Milwaukie city officials authorized Healthy Democracy to assemble the citizen jury panel to be a "microcosm of the public" — in terms of age, ethnicity, political party, gender and other factors — because city officials said the demographically representative panel's resulting report would come with an inherent legitimacy that sets it apart from conventional citizen committees.
Davis, in managing the project for Healthy Democracy, said there are several possible reasons for Milwaukie's especially low response rate.
Healthy Democracy made several changes to its format for this unique pilot project, including scheduling the citizen jury over two summer weekends, rather than several straight days, and addressing invitation letters to "Current Milwaukie Resident," rather than to a particular name. Davis said these generic addressees were necessary to reach a more complete sample of Milwaukie residents, including individuals age 16-17 and those not registered to vote.
"Through this project, however, we also hope to create an easily replicable model for other cities with difficult policy questions before them," Davis said. "So, for us, this project has dual purposes: the question at hand in Milwaukie and a future 'Milwaukie model' for local public engagement."
Healthy Democracy Executive Director Robin Teater said the total budget for the Milwaukie project is $20,000, none of which is being funded by the city. She said the Portland-based nonprofit organization is funded by individual donors, local and national foundations, and some out-of-state fee-for-service revenue (primarily from project partners like Massachusetts that contract for the Citizens' Initiative Review).
"Healthy Democracy has never received funding from the state of Oregon, but a small endowment dedicated to the CIR, to which Oregon voters could voluntarily contribute, is being contemplated via Senate Bill 755 introduced (but not passed) in the last legislative session," Teater said. "The endowment was proposed as a mechanism for future sustained funding that had strong bipartisan support, but was left unaddressed in the final rather chaotic days of the session."
As for the Milwaukie project, Teater said Healthy Democracy applied for grant funding from a foundation to support Oregon pilot projects in cities and smaller jurisdictions as distinct from statewide work.
"Our intention in applying for this funding was to be able to offer the same kind of solution-based, deliberative process practiced in the statewide CIR to local governments, ideally as a new and meaningful way of engaging their constituents in their democracy," she said.
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