Langley council to have another do-over on ordinance that sets mayor's salary

LANGLEY - Ask Abbott and Costello. Even the Mummy never came back from the dead this many times.

Langley has once again taken up the topic of the mayor's salary, a subject that has cursed the council since late 2008, as questions started to stir inside city hall about vacation pay for the mayor.

At Monday's meeting, council members said the last fix-it ordinance on the mayor's salary — adopted in September 2010 to resolve an ongoing controversy that led to an early state audit of the city's books — was still flawed and should be rewritten or rescinded.

The new life on the old debate is wrapped up in a proposal that has put a fright into some residents of the Village by the Sea: the upcoming election where citizens will vote on whether they want to keep an elected mayor as part of city government.

While the mayor's position is expected to be on the November ballot, that may change if voters in the August Primary decide to adopt a city manager-model of government instead.

Councilman Hal Seligson, however, has been pressing the council to consider what will happen if the city keeps its mayor, and a new one is elected in November.

Under the city's current law that sets the mayor's salary, the one adopted in September, the next mayor's pay will be determined by the city council after the new hizzoner is sworn in and submits a "plan of administration" to the council within 90 days after the start of the term.

"My concern is in the way the ordinance is written," Seligson said.

Seligson offered the possibility that a candidate may run for mayor

"If the elected mayor proposed a plan where there was a full mayor with full compensation and a majority of the council said, 'No, we'd like to go back to $21,000; we're just going to leave things as they are, that mayor may then say, 'I can't afford to do this.' And take a walk."

"And three people, myself perhaps included, would be able to countermand the choice of the electorate."

"I just don't think that's right," he said.

"I agree with you," said Councilwoman Rene Neff.

The ordinance that set the mayor's salary wasn't the first attempt. It was revised under a cloud of controversy last year after numerous lawyers said the law — which deemed the mayor an employee and made him eligible for vacation benefits — was illegal. City councils cannot dictate how many hours a mayor puts in at city hall, they said, but when the council approved a new ordinance, it included language the required a plan on how city hall would be run.

"I think, once again, we got way too complicated," Neff said.

"I do not think this job is too complicated for Paul," she added, drawing a sharp contrast with earlier comments by Councilman Robert Gilman, who suggested the mayor was not up to the job.

City Attorney Grant Weed said the council could not dictate how the executive branch conducted its affairs.

"There's limits to what the council can do in telling the mayor about how to go about doing the job," Weed said.

Several others on the council said the ordinance had been written to give the city flexibility, in case an elected mayor did not want to work "full time" at city hall or the pay to match.

Some in the audience said the council should concentrate on the position, and not the person currently in the job.

"I think we should make the ordinance simple but clear; this is what the mayor does, and if the mayor wants to be here 70 hours a week, or 10 hours a week, we are going to pay them x amount of money and they are going to get the job done," said Langley resident Kathleen Waters. "And if they don't, the ballot is the place where it will get resolved."

Council members said they wanted further research on what the appropriate pay for the position should be, and said it was an issue they wanted resolved early on, so anyone who runs for the office of mayor will know what the job pays.

The council is expected to continue its discussion of the mayor's pay in early June.

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