Silly me, I failed to grasp the real significance of the municipal salary information I shared with readers some months ago. I thought the real story was how much our mayor and aldermen were being paid and that the citizens had a right to know the correct amounts. Although that was the story, it really wasn’t.
The issue of pay for elected and appointed municipal officials resurfaced when a newspaper in a neighboring county finally got the courage to publish the salaries some of their officials who hold offices in their city. It was then I realized I missed a few points when we reviewed our municipal salaries some months ago.
While I am still overwhelmed by the fact our Mayor’s salary is only exceeded by the salaries of 13 other Mayor’s salaries in the State of Mississippi (according to the 2008 Municipal Salary and Benefits Survey prepared for the Mississippi Municipal League) and the average population size of those 13 cities is 24,904, I am even more overwhelmed by what we pay our elected City Clerk.
Yes, I know that position will be an appointed position in the years to come, but right now it is still an elected position and subject to public scrutiny in terms of the salary paid. Even more incredible than the Mayor’s salary in comparison to other cities in the state, at $52,768 per year (this is prior to her last cost-of-living increase), our City Clerk has only seven (7) City Clerks in Mississippi drawing more in salary than her. All of those cities are larger than New Albany by thousands in population.
For those who might think I am in some way picking on the City Clerk, let me assure you that it makes no difference to me who holds or will hold the position as long as he or she is qualified, but I am trying to show that the salary paid by this size city for that position is a perfect example of the manner in which our city officials and their appointees have abandoned the notion of protecting the financial interests of the citizens of this city.
I guess my main question is, will we continue to pay our City Clerk at this rate after the position becomes appointed? Do officials, if reelected, already have a replacement for the retiring City Clerk in mind or already hired? Or will we re-examine the job qualifications, duties and compensation, take it out of the political sphere and back into a position of public service and responsibility? It appears that candidates for mayor and alderman positions need to be thinking about this one too.
Thus far, it has been a strange pre-election period for the newspaper. We are having to call the city administration to find out if someone has qualified to run for office. In all elections past candidates would call us or come by the office to let us know. We asked a couple of recent qualifiers and discovered that they were given a form from another publication and told to call that publication to announce their candidacy and also complained of some misdirection from officials in terms of what forms to fill out, etc.
It goes without saying that to a man, including the mayor, our current board of aldermen and our city clerk, all of whom, except the city clerk, who are running for reelection, do not like the coverage they have received from this newspaper and certainly not the attention they have gotten in this column. Having said that, their hurt feelings are not an excuse for using their elected offices to attempt to make our job more difficult and information about the election harder for the voters to get.
The whole group of them need to remember that this newspaper pays city taxes. No other publication distributed in Union County does.
To add to our disappointment with the lack of professionalism from our city officials, we are concerned about conflicting and downright confusing instructions are being given to potential qualifiers. The rumor mill already carries stories of irregularities during the last municipal election reportedly by officials and appointees that, if true, would put them in violation of election laws. Even the slightest action to mislead or confuse someone who wants to run for office sort of adds some credence to the rumor mill stories, don’t you think?
There has been at least one suggestion that the Secretary of States’ office should be advised that we need an election monitor to avoid irregularities. While such an action would be a sad commentary for our community, the facts are that although on a larger scale and certainly more publicized, the improper political activities of the former governor of Illinois are really no worse than those of local officials, elected or appointed, who would try to discourage or mislead a candidate or potential candidates as they attempt to quality to run for office.
Let us all hope future candidates will not find intimidation or confusion to be a part of the qualification process and that we can manage our municipal election properly and within the law.