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Council Ready To Decide On Members’ Pay; A Yes Puts The Ball In Voters’ Court

Ryan Loyd
TPR News
San Antonio City Hall

UPDATE: The Council has passed Proposition 2 sending the measure to voters. District 9 Councilmember Joe Krier was the only dissent. A separate amendment, Proposition 3, was put aside for now. Prop 3 dictated the council would receive a raise every ten years based on census data.

San Antonio’s city council members could receive a salary, pending voter approval. Today, the council will decide whether to put that item on the ballot in the form of a charter amendment.

On the Westside of San Antonio at Zarzamora and West Commerce, sits the family business of District 5 City Councilwoman Shirley Gonzalez. Bill’s Pawnshop and Jewelry store has been in her family for 50 years and, as a co-owner, it is her main source of income. “My mother and I are the owners, the co-owners, she is more of a silent partner, but she comes in every day and she works. She has to now because I’m gone so much,” Gonzales said.

For Gonzales, managing the shop is a full time job. She also works at least 40 hours a week as a council member. However, for those 40 plus hours, she and the other council members earn just $20 per meeting; a maximum of $1040 per year. Gonzalez says the current compensation makes it difficult for many people to run for council positions. 

“Even if someone really wanted to serve and they had the experience, and they had the enthusiasm, and the potential, they really could not. Very few people could anywhere in this city, but especially in District 5, where we’re working class and there’s no other way than to work every day to get by,” she said.  “We are the poorest community; the average household income for District 5 is about $10,000 a year.” 

Whether future council members will receive a salary or not could be up to voters. The proposed pay would be $45,000, which is the median income for San Antonio, and $61,000 for the mayor. Voters rejected a similar measure in 2004 

But what do voters think of the potential proposition this time around? Retired schoolteacher Linda Murray says it’s time for adequate compensation. “This is taking away from their other livelihood, most likely. Or else, they’re spending lots of late hours at night, so I feel they should be compensated for that. If we want to have folks who are quality people do these jobs, then I think we’re going to have to pay them.”

Registered Nurse Becca Pegg echoes Murray’s sentiments. “A lot of people work two jobs to pay the bills. If they’re working two jobs and only one of them pays the bills, that’s really tough.”

However voters Steve Cohen and Cynthia Arzola says things should stay the way they are, with council members remaining public servants. “It’s part of the community. It’s the service they’re doing for the community, besides having a full time job. I don’t believe they should be getting extra pay for doing we as city people voted them to do,” says Arzola. Cohen’s point was basic: “If you’re truly called to public service, then you shouldn’t be worried about getting a salary, should you?”

Just in comparison, Austin pays its council members $69,000 per year, Dallas pays members $60,000. 

If the City Council sends the proposition to voters and it’s approved in the May 9 election, the pay wouldn’t take effect until the new council is installed in July. 

Joey Palacios can be reached atJoey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules