Langley to talk about pay for mayor, council

Langley council members will talk about their paychecks — somewhat reluctantly, it now seems — at their next meeting on Monday.

With the question of whether or not Langley will keep its elected mayor heading to the November ballot, Councilman Hal Seligson has been pressing for a more robust discussion of exactly what the mayor of the Village by the Sea should do to receive a compensation package that now tops out an annual base pay of $53,532 before benefits are added in.

At the council meeting on May 16, city officials are expected to review the mayor’s pay, which will reset to $21,000 at the end of Mayor Paul Samuelson’s term in December.

The talk is timely, Seligson said, because voters will also choose a new mayor, as well as deciding the city’s form of government during the General Election in November.

The way the system is set up now, voters will choose a mayor but the council will decide later — after the mayor takes office and proposes a work plan for the administration — what the mayor will be paid. But the council has not adopted any specific set of standards to judge whether a mayor’s plan makes the grade and triggers a higher salary.

“The way it is now ... to me as a council member and to me as a voter, is confusing. It needs to be clarified,” Seligson said.

It also removes the ability of Langley’s citizens to have a say in the role of an elected mayor, he said.

“I’m sure it’s perfectly legal that the council determines the work plan and compensation package for the mayor, but I think to eliminate that from the discussion pretty much before the election happens ... diminishes the role of the voter in deciding who they will put into office,” Seligson said.

Although the conversation was originally meant to focus on the mayor’s salary, Councilman Robert Gilman has said the council should talk about what council members get paid, as well.

Langley council members currently receive $50 per month. According to the most recent salary survey conducted by the Association of Washington Cities, the pay rate is in line with several other cities nearly the same size, such as Coulee Dam and Kittitas, though many other cities pay more, and some council members receive no monthly compensation in other cities. Coupeville council members do not receive monthly checks; Oak Harbor council members receive $596 a month.

The pay for other elected officials varies greatly.

Port of South Whidbey Commissioners are paid $104 per diem for days they attend meetings, which translates to that amount or more every month.

Members of the board of Whidbey General Hospital are paid $104 per day, when they attend a meeting.

Diking District 1 commissioners are not paid, and neither are members of the South Whidbey School Board, or commissioners for the South Whidbey Parks & Recreation District.

Langley City Councilwoman Fran Abel said it makes sense to review the amount paid to council members from time to time.

“Maybe it’s too much, maybe it’s not enough,” she said. “I think it’s worth bringing up.”

“I don’t know if it should be changed at all,” Abel added. “I don’t think there is any council member that is looking to be paid any significant amount of money.”

Gilman said he only brought up the issue at the council’s last meeting because someone else on the council told him the item should be a topic for discussion.

“Whether it would make sense to make some change at this point, I don’t know. It’s not a big thing for me,” Gilman said.

He also noted that state law prevents council members from raising their own pay. “Any change that would happen at this point would not affect me personally,” Gilman said.

Seligson said talking about the council’s pay was a waste of time, however.

“There are far more urgent matters to be spending council time on than whether there should be a change in the council’s compensation,” he said.

“I don’t really think there is any urgent need to discuss that. The current amount of money really is not very significant,” Seligson said.

Seligson, who joined the council in December and is up for election in November, has been donating his salary back to the city since he was appointed.

“I doubt that anybody is dependent upon it,” he said of council member’s $50 monthly paycheck. “I’m certainly not.”

“I think it just introduces another topic that takes us away from the core issue,” he added.

“I think the core issue is the mayor’s work plan and salary. That’s the one we need to deal with; that’s the one we need to pay close attention to,” Seligson said.

The council will meet at 5:30 p.m. Monday, May 16 at city hall. The mayor’s salary discussion is the last item on the agenda.

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