Pay can be deterrent in municipal elections

January 9, 2013 12:48:23 PM

Sarah Fowler - sfowler@cdispatch.com

 

With the municipal elections fast approaching, incumbents and challengers will battle for mayor, council and aldermen positions. But the perks of the job are not always financial. 

 

While the compensation of mayors ranges from $50,000 to $80,000 in the Golden Triangle, the pay for council members and aldermen hardly represent a living wage. 

 

With a population of 23,640, Columbus Mayor Robert Smith earns $78,797.47 per year according to the 2012 Municipal Salaries and benefits Survey released by the Stennis Institute at Mississippi State University.  

 

Councilmen with the city of Columbus earn $17,500 per year. All of the Columbus councilmen have announced they will seek reelection. 

 

In the city of Starkville, Mayor Parker Wiseman earns $60,000 per year in a city with a population of roughly 24,000, which does not include the approximately 20,000 students enrolled at Mississippi State University. 

 

Starkville aldermen earn $12,000 per year.  

 

In its last meeting, the Starkville Board of Alderman approved a pay increase to $15,000 per year for aldermen. The board also voted to raise the mayor's salary from $60,000 to $71,500. The raises are effective in Fiscal Year 2015.  

 

Both Smith and Wiseman are full-time mayors. 

 

West Point Mayor Scott Ross earns $50,000 a year in his part-time position with the city. West Point has a population of 20,641. West Point alderman earn $18,000 per year.  

 

Dr. Marty Wiseman, director of the Stennis Institute, said that salary will often come into play for someone who is considering entering politics. Wiseman is the father of the Starkville mayor. 

 

"The amount that an alderman gets for serving as an alderman probably is not enough when you consider the distraction that it is from a career," he said. "People have to look at it that way." 

 

In Columbus, the majority of the six member council are retirees. The youngest member of the board, Ward 5 Councilman Kabir Karriem is 40. 

 

Karriem serves the community as a councilman but also has a full-time job in the food service industry. For Ward 3 Councilmen Charlie Box and Ward 4 Councilman Fred Stewart, serving in their elected position is their only known source of employment.  

 

In Starkville, however, the balance of youth and experience leans towards the younger generations.  

 

Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver, Ward 3 Alderman Eric Parker, Ward 4 Alderman Richard Corey and Ward 5 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas are all in their early 30s and have jobs that compete with their duties as aldermen. The same holds true for the most tenured aldermen, Roy A. Perkins, an attorney who has served on the board for 19 years. 

 

Recently, both Dumas and Corey said they would not seek reelection, each citing the need to focus on their careers.  

 

Dr. Wiseman said that can be typical for an official whose part-time job as a city official carries the responsibilities of a full-time position.  

 

"It could be a deterrent to people wanting to serve if you're right on that line where it has turned into a full-time job yet still pays part-time pay," he said. "You have someone who would love to run, love to serve but says, 'I can't afford not to work my full time job.'"  

 

For some, the flexibility afforded from their "day jobs,'' makes serving as a city official feasible. 

 

Carver said he feels fortunate that he can balance the demands of his elected position and his career with Sysco Foods.  

 

"It's a tough time management skill," he said. "You've got to have the ability to go to a meeting if you have to. With the pay as low as it is, there are certain people who can't afford to do that. I've been fortunate that if I've got a mandatory (city) meeting I've got to go to, I get to go." 

 

Dr. Wiseman mentioned Dumas' decision not to run for reelection and questioned if the alderman would have sought another term in office if the pay had been higher.  

 

"Would Jeremiah stay if the pay was doubled? I don't know if he would say that," Wiseman said.  

 

Carver said that while the job has certain obvious responsibilities, he doesn't see it as a full-time position.  

 

"I don't view it as a full time job," he said. "We have a mayor who does the day-to-day. What we do is more policy driven."  

 

He said that no matter the pay, his main job responsibility is looking out for the best interests for the citizens of Starkville.  

 

"It's about being a representative for the people," he said. 

 

 

 

Local Salary Averages 

 

 

 

Columbus 

 

Population: 23,640  

 

Mayor's salary: $78,797.47  

 

Councilmen salary: $17,500.00 

 

 

 

Starkville 

 

Population: 23,888 

 

Mayor's salary: $60,000.00 

 

Councilman salary: $12,000.00 

 

 

 

West Point  

 

Population: 20,641  

 

Mayor's salary: $50,000.00  

 

Alderman salary: $18,000.00

Sarah Fowler covers crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch. Follow her on Twitter @FowlerSarah